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Phelps should not be demonized for a single mistake

Thousands of stories across the country have captured the plight of Michael Phelps and his recent bong incident. Phelps has apologized for his youthful indiscretion. It seems that his apology was accepted by most Americans, including the corporate sponsors that gave Phelps lucrative contracts for his endorsements.

Only one spoiler is making noise about the incident. Sheriff Leon Lott of Richland County has said that he will charge Phelps with a crime if he determines he smoked marijuana.

Coincidently the Phelps story broke the same day that Santonio Holmes became MVP of Super Bowl XLII. Let's put this in context.

Phelps won an astounding 14 gold medals at the Olympics. Holmes earned honors during last week's Super Bowl when he caught the winning touchdown in the closing seconds.

Both athletes felt the thrill of victory in sports. They've also had to address their drug use in the press. It seems like heroics are not enough to cancel out the government's zero-tolerance policy when it comes to recreational drug use.

Maybe both of these athletes should have known better. But even our greatest sports heroes are human beings who make mistakes. Both Phelps and Holmes are no different from millions of other Americans who use marijuana, either recreationally or medically.

Let's be honest. Olympic gold medals and bong hits don't mix well with mainstream America. Phelps should know this. But maybe because he is a normal 23-year-old, he forgot.

Holmes has come a long way since his arrest in 2008 for the possession of three marijuana-filled cigars. Holmes received a one-game suspension and was allowed to continue the season without further punitive action. Holmes was able to overcome this mid-season stumble and recover to be the hero of the Steelers' record sixth Super Bowl title.

But a government hell-bent on continuing an unwinnable war on drugs has little regard for mistakes. Take the case of Mitchell Lawrence, an 18-year-old Massachusetts resident, who was sentenced in 2006 to two years in prison for possession of a single marijuana joint. His life is forever ruined.

People who use drugs and people who wrestle with addiction are routinely demonized by the so-called moral majority. This is wrong. Many people struggle with addiction and it should be addressed in a medical context, not a criminal, punitive one.

For every person who struggles with drugs and drug addiction, there are millions of others who use drugs recreationally, and responsibly. Phelps and Holmes are two high-profile examples.

The moral majority might try to follow Lott's lead and call for Phelps' head. But Phelps is still a hero to America and his career should not go up in smoke because of a single mistake. Holmes is a testament to this.

Jason Flom is president of Lava Records. Anthony Papa is communications specialist of the Drug Policy Alliance.

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