NEW YORK – Bursting with indignation, legions of marijuana advocates are urging a boycott of Kellogg Co., including all of its popular munchies, for deciding to cut ties with Olympic hero Michael Phelps after he was photographed with a pot pipe.
The leader of one of the biggest legalize-pot organizations, the Marijuana Policy Project, called Kellogg's action "hypocritical and disgusting," and said he'd never seen his membership so angry, with more than 2,300 of them signing an online petition.
"Kellogg's had no problem signing up Phelps when he had a conviction for drunk driving, an illegal act that could actually have killed someone," said Rob Kampia, the group's executive director. "To drop him for choosing to relax with a substance that's safer than beer is an outrage, and it sends a dangerous message to young people."
Also urging a boycott were the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the Drug Policy Alliance. They encouraged their members to contact Kellogg to vent their views.
In one sign of the campaign's impact, the Phelps saga took precedence over the tainted peanut butter outbreak in the recorded reply on Kellogg's consumer hot line Tuesday.
"If you would like to share your comments regarding our relationship with Michael Phelps, please press one to speak to a representative," said the recording. "If you're calling about the recent peanut butter recall, please press two now."
From Kellogg's media office, there was no immediate reply to a request for an assessment of the boycott campaign. A Kellogg spokeswoman, Kris Charles, said by e-mail, "Our contract with Michael Phelps was set to expire at the end of February and we made a business decision not to extend that contract."
Last week, the company announced his contract would end and described Phelps' conduct as "not consistent with the image of Kellogg." Kellogg has been placing images of Phelps on the fronts of Frosted Flakes and Corn Flakes boxes since September, after the swimmer's record-shattering haul of eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics.
The groups calling for the boycott were angry at Kellogg, but also eager to use the opportunity to restate long-standing calls for decriminalization of pot.
"It's not just that Michael Phelps did what millions of other twenty-somethings do," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "It's that he did what over one hundred million Americans have done at least once in their lives, including the president, former presidents, members of the U.S. Congress and Supreme Court."
Similar commentary sounded even in mainstream media — including columns in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and National Review Online questioning the rationale and effectiveness of U.S. marijuana laws.
Of Phelps' numerous big-name sponsors, Kellogg was the only one to publicly cut ties after the pot photo emerged. While it received some support, the giant food company has also been singled out for mockery by a host of comedians, bloggers and others.
On Saturday Night Live, Seth Myers questioned whether marijuana use was in fact at odds with Kellogg's image.
"Every one of your mascots is a wild-eyed cartoon character with uncontrollable munchies," Myers said. "Every one of your products sounds like a wish a genie granted at a Phish concert."
On the Huffington Post, blogger Lee Stranahan pursued that theme in a proposed petition to the company that said in part, "We believe that most people over the age of 12 would not eat Kellogg's products were they not wicked high."
Stranahan's petition concluded with this call-to-arms:
"Given all these facts and the total disregard for your customer base ... we the undersigned plan to BOYCOTT your products. And we're serious. Even though the Pop Tarts thing will be HARD."