Michael Phelps, 2012 Olympics (photo: NevilleHobson / flickr)

American swimmer Michael Phelps just became the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time. We know that Phelps at least once, and probably more than once, used marijuana. I think it would be hard for anyone to argue that his use of the plant did any real damage to Phelps as a human being.

Clearly having smoked pot didn’t prevent Phelps from becoming the greatest Olympic winner of all time. In the same way, the actual use of marijuana didn’t stop Bill Clinton or Barack Obama from graduating from top universities and eventually becoming President.

This leads to the question: Does anyone honestly think Phelps or society would be better off if he had been arrested on marijuana charges and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law?

Does anyone think Phelps personally or the United States as a whole would be doing better if he had a criminal record, paid large fines, was put on prohibition and/or even served some jail time for using marijuana? Depending on where it happened and the circumstance surround it, all these things could have theoretically happened to an individual for using marijuana based on current laws.

The question is not a joke or just asked rhetorically. I’m being completely sincere. It is important for voters to answer seriously, because it is at the heart of a very serious policy debate about marijuana laws in this country. Every year millions of Americans use marijuana, and over 800,000 will be prosecuted for marijuana violations.

The supposed justification for having a marijuana prohibition is to protect people from the “damage” caused by marijuana use, but if you admit that the prohibition itself causes far more harm to individuals and society than the actual consumption the plant ever could, that means there is something seriously wrong with our laws.