CBS on Phelps Smoking Pot: ‘Should There Be Outrage?’

Harry Smith, CBS On Tuesday’s CBS Early Show, co-host Harry Smith teased a segment on Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps caught smoking marijuana: "Also, so far there seems to be little fallout for Michael Phelps following publication of that photo showing him inhaling -- what looks like to be inhaling from a marijuana pipe. Should there be outrage?" When he later introduced the segment, Smith argued: "So far there hasn't been much negative reaction to the photo showing Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps smoking what appeared to be marijuana. A few years ago, it might have ruined his career. Maybe it's a sign of changing attitudes."

Correspondent Randall Pinkston reported on Americans’ "changing attitudes": "The seeming lack of outrage may reflect America's changing attitudes towards marijuana...While a majority of Americans still oppose legalization, a new CBS News poll shows a big swing in opinion in recent years. 27 percent supported legalization in 1979. 41 percent support it today." Pinkston even touted the drug use of Democratic presidents as proof: "Even attitudes from the nation's leaders have changed. While Bill Clinton famously said he tried it but never inhaled, President Obama has acknowledged he did try marijuana while in high school."

Following Pinkston’s report, Smith discussed the issue with Canadian Olympic snowboarder Ross Rebagliati, who nearly lost his gold medal at the 1998 winter Olympics for testing positive for marijuana, and Joe Califano, chairman of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. Smith asked Rebagliati about Phelps: "Some people are saying ‘give the guy a break. My God, the guy has dedicated his entire life to sport.’ You know, should he be crucified for a moment's -- perhaps a moment's lapse in judgment?" Rebagliati argued: "You know, I think that, you know, the societies are coming together right now and realizing, you know, that marijuana is not a dangerous substance when you compare it to the likes of alcohol and smoking tobacco...Honestly, it's like a -- it's the lesser of the two evils."

Califano offered a voice of opposition: "It's hardly the lesser of two evils. Marijuana is a dangerous drug. It's bad for kids. Alcohol is also bad for kids, there's no question about it." Earlier, Califano explained: "He [Phelps] is a model for kids. And this whole issue of marijuana really should be looked at in terms of kids, teenagers...There are more kids in the United States in treatment for marijuana dependence than there are for alcohol dependence. And we know a lot more about its impact on the developing brain...So I think it's important for Phelps to indicate kids shouldn't do it. He's essentially said that...But I'd like to hear him say it a little louder and a little more firmly."

Rebagliati even praised the health benefits of marijuana compared to alcohol: "...as an athlete, you have to seriously consider whether you're going to consume alcohol. You know, which is extra calories to your diet, its going to make, you know, you're not going to feel that great in the morning, you know. It's [marijuana is] fat free, too."

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

7:30AM TEASE:

HARRY SMITH: Also, so far there seems to be little fallout for Michael Phelps following publication of that photo showing him inhaling -- what looks like to be inhaling from a marijuana pipe. Should there be outrage? We'll ask an Olympic medalist who nearly lost his gold medal after testing positive for marijuana.

7:31AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: So far there hasn't been much negative reaction to the photo showing Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps smoking what appeared to be marijuana. A few years ago, it might have ruined his career. Maybe it's a sign of changing attitudes. CBS News correspondent Randall Pinkston has more.

RANDALL PINKSTON: With gleaming gold medals, Michael Phelps' picture adorned swimming pools around the country. But this picture of Phelps smoking marijuana has fans questioning his judgment.

KATIE HUGHES: He has like 8 gold medals, you'd think he'd be smarter about, like, the decisions he's making.

PINKSTON: John Collins has coached three swimmers who later became Olympic champions. Would you kick him off your team?

JOHN COLLINS: I don't think so. I mean, I think Michael is someone who -- who has a lot of qualities that are worth saving.

PINKSTON: And this parent does not condemn Phelps.

JOSIE COLE: Part of life is making choices. Sometimes we make the right choice. Sometimes we make the wrong choice. He's going to learn from this choice.

PINKSTON: The seeming lack of outrage may reflect America's changing attitudes towards marijuana. An estimated $30 billion industry in the United States alone. While a majority of Americans still oppose legalization, a new CBS News poll shows a big swing in opinion in recent years. 27 percent supported legalization in 1979. 41 percent support it today. Even attitudes from the nation's leaders have changed. While Bill Clinton famously said he tried it but never inhaled, President Obama has acknowledged he did try marijuana while in high school. Phelps, who hopes to earn $100 million in endorsements, will soon learn whether enough has changed for the continued support of his sponsors and fans. Randall Pinkston, CBS News, New York.

SMITH: Joining us from Vancouver is Ross Rebagliati, a 1998 Olympic snowboarder who almost lost his gold medal after testing positive for marijuana. We're also joined by Joe Califano, chairman of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. Good morning to you both.

JOE CALIFANO: Morning, Harry.

ROSS REBAGLIATI: Good morning.

SMITH: Ross, I want to go back to your story and just help refresh people's minds. You win the gold. After the gold medal has already been awarded, you test positive for marijuana. What happens?

REBAGLIATI: Exactly. I tested positive for marijuana. They basically stripped my medal from me right away. And I went through two appeals, which I lost both of, before I went the court of arbitration in which they just reviewed the list of banned substances and found marijuana not to be on that list and then quickly reinstated me.

SMITH: So you got your gold medal back. What is your reaction to the -- to what has happened to Michael Phelps in the last couple of days?

REBAGLIATI: Well, you know, I think Michael's experience -- you know, I felt like I could understand, you know, what he was going through. It was definitely something that would be traumatic for him to have to experience. And you know, he'd be reviewing, you know, some of his, you know, thought processes, and you know maybe he could, you know, make some better decisions in the future. But, you know, I definitely related with the idea that, you know, maybe some decisions weren't made, you know, correctly in the past. And you can, you know, look forward to changing and being a better person in the future.

SMITH: Joe, your reaction to this because this -- there was no more greater sort of iconic sports figure in America, maybe even around the world, in the last year or two, than Phelps. This picture gets published. And there's this kind of a collective shrug around the country.

CALIFANO: Well, I think there is something of a shrug, but I do think, you know, as even -- that he himself issued a statement saying that he thought he -- that his conduct was not appropriate. I think the point is, he is an iconic sports figure. He is a model for kids. And this whole issue of marijuana really should be looked at in terms of kids, teenagers. Because most people will never smoke pot if they don't smoke it while they're teens.

SMITH: If they make it to 21 and don't smoke, the chances of them smoking is almost nonexistent, right?

CALIFANO: Exactly. And, you know, we know today's marijuana is much stronger than the marijuana that parents smoked in the '70s. There are more kids in the United States in treatment for marijuana dependence than there are for alcohol dependence. And we know a lot more about its impact on the developing brain, as we learn more and more about neurology here. So I think it's important for Phelps to indicate kids shouldn't do it. He's essentially said that.

SMITH: Right.

CALIFANO: But I'd like to hear him say it a little louder and a little more firmly.

SMITH: Ross, let me ask you this. As an Olympic athlete, you know what it takes in terms of the dedication and everything else in order to get yourself to the top of that podium. This is a guy who's done it in a way no one has ever done it before. Some people are saying 'give the guy a break. My God, the guy has dedicated his entire life to sport.' You know, should he be crucified for a moment's -- perhaps a moment's lapse in judgment?

REBAGLIATI: Absolutely not. You know, Michael Phelps is a great person in the pool and out of the pool. You know, I think that, you know, the societies are coming together right now and realizing, you know, that marijuana is not a dangerous substance when you compare it to the likes of alcohol and smoking tobacco. Not to mention that, but as an athlete, you have to seriously consider whether you're going to consume alcohol. You know, which is extra calories to your diet, its going to make, you know, you're not going to feel that great in the morning, you know. It's fat free, too. You know, you've got to consider these things.

[Laughter]

SMITH: Alright.

REBAGLIATI: Honestly, it's like a -- it's the lesser of the two evils.

SMITH: Alright, very quickly, Joe.

CALIFANO: It's hardly the lesser of two evils. Marijuana is a dangerous drug. It's bad for kids. Alcohol is also bad for kids, there's no question about it.

SMITH: Alright. Joe, Ross, thanks so much for taking the time to join us this morning. Do appreciate it.

REBAGLIATI: My pleasure.

SMITH: Good to see you.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC