South Carolina Sheriff Pursues Phelps Pot Case
If Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps could have chosen where to get caught smoking some marijuana, it probably would have been someplace other than South Carolina.
The 23-year-old Phelps is under scrutiny as local sheriff's deputies continue to investigate photos of the gold medalist from Baltimore trying some pot with a bong at a November college party at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
When those photos surfaced in Britain's News of the World newspaper, Phelps was forced to apologize. He lost a lucrative Kellogg Co. sponsorship and was suspended for three months by USA Swimming, the sport's governing body.
But it didn't stop there. A South Carolina defense lawyer, Dick Harpootlian, speaking to the The State newspaper in Columbia, said a male client -- whom he declined to identify -- was arrested along with seven others in a raid Saturday after authorities seized "5, maybe 6 grams of pot" related to the Phelps photo.
"They never asked him, 'Who sold you the pot?' ... They were asking, 'Were you at the party with Michael Phelps? Did you see him using marijuana?' It was all about Michael Phelps," Harpootlian said.
Appearing on "Good Morning America," another attorney for one of the eight arrested, Joe McCulloch, questioned Richland County, S.C., Sheriff Leon Lott's motives.
"It is a fascination, if not an effort, to destroy a public hero," McCulloch said.
South Carolina law is especially harsh for marijuana-related offenses. Possession of one ounce or less of marijuana is a misdemeanor that carries a fine up to $200 and 30 days in jail for the first offense.
If Phelps had been caught smoking a doobie in, say, Massachusetts, it might be a different story. Voters there passed a law last year decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and many police departments around the state said their offices would simply not bother ticketing people they see smoking, according to the Boston Globe.
And in California, conflicting local, state and federal marijuana laws has allowed some low-level users and distributors to operate freely.
By Derek Kravitz |
February 12, 2009; 5:53 PM ET
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