"For once I'd like someone to say, 'Yeah, I smoke pot, it's harmless and I enjoy it.'"

Whatever happens, syndicated ethics columnist Randy Cohen sees a different problem. He takes no issue with possible pot smoking, only with what he sees as hypocrisy implicit in Mr. Phelps’ apology.

“So the guy smokes pot,” Mr. Cohen said. “For once I’d like someone to say, ‘Yeah, I smoke pot, it’s harmless and I enjoy it.’ ” Instead, he said, Mr. Phelps is lying by pretending he’ll never do it again…

“The people who should be shaping our kids’ conduct are parents, friends, people they know in the community,” he said. “Michael Phelps’ glory is that he’s an incredibly talented swimmer. Unless your child happens to be a fish, why do you want him to be a role model?”