They couldn’t hang Tiger Woods for being a drunk, so now media moralizers are attempting to brand the golfing legend as a sort of irresponsible stoner.

On May 29, police discovered Woods passed out at the wheel of his Mercedes, pulled over to the side of the road, engine running. After he was awakened, Woods was arrested for suspected driving under the influence. The golfer was stone-cold sober, at least by Alcoholics Anonymous standards—he blew a 0.00 on a Breathalyzer—and later told investigators that it was a cocktail of pharmaceuticals, prescribed following his fourth back surgery, that left him groggy and out of it.

This month, Woods agreed to enter a diversion program to settle his debt to the criminal justice system. But this is America! His public-opinion trial has just begun. And within hours of ESPN acquiring an incident report from police, kangaroo court was in session.

As per the AP:

The report, prepared by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, says Woods, 41, had THC, the active ingredient for marijuana; as well as the painkillers Vicodin and Dilaudid; the anxiety and sleep drug Xanax; and the anti-insomnia drug Ambien in his system when he was arrested at 2 a.m. May 29 about 15 miles from his home in Jupiter.

“Tiger Woods had five drugs in his system—including marijuana,” blared a headline in the Miami Herald earlier last week. “Report: Tiger Woods had marijuana, painkillers in system at arrest,” trumpeted the Toronto Sun, which used the same Associated Press headline seen in other major newspapers across the country. It was marijuana, not anything else, that the AP chose to lead with in its story.

As Sunshine State News’s Nancy Smith pointed out, marijuana led most of the coverage. This is stupid. Worse than that, it’s dishonest.

As we pointed out a few months ago, since states began legalizing marijuana, endless space and ink have been wasted on moralistic worries about “stoned driving,” when the same highway data used by prohibitionists to justify keeping marijuana illegal demonstrates that most fatal crashes are caused by no drug at all.

The Tiger Woods episode should have been an opportunity to talk about prescription drugs and how dangerous doctor-approved cocktails can be. Have pain, trouble sleeping? Here’s some Xanax, here’s some Vicodin! Good luck functioning. 

Driving while loaded on prescription pills is absolutely bad and something we’re warned not to do. “Don’t drive or operate heavy machinery” while on this drug, many prescription labels read. But, OK—how many pills are too many? What’s the threshold? We have no idea. We know exactly how many drinks are too many, and we’ve also set a comically low limit for THC metabolites in the blood, but with the more potent narcotics handed out by doctors by the fistful, we’re left to guess. That’s really dumb. Shouldn’t we figure out something better?

Of course we should!

And leading with marijuana steers us away from that debate. And it also steers credulous readers towards a conclusion that Woods was high on weed when he fell asleep. While the public consciousness is slowly changing, it’s still not necessarily common knowledge that the presence of marijuana metabolites in the human body is not necessarily a sign of intoxication. Complicated! Boring! So rather than do that, reporters led with weed.

To its credit, ESPN allowed its on-air pundits to complain about the mischaracterization.

The painkillers in his system are the story, not the marijuana,” said First Take’s Max Kellerman, who blasted his irresponsible fellow travelers in sports media for letting Big Pharma off the hook and honing in on the weed instead.

Let’s say Tiger Woods did use cannabis in the days or even hours leading up to his arrest. Good! He should be applauded. Medical cannabis is legal in Florida, and medical cannabis is good for pain and good as a nighttime soporific. It’s not ideal to drive impaired by anything, but let’s not forget the key point here: When Woods felt sleepy, he pulled over to the side of the road.

This should be a victimless crime.

And it would be, if it weren’t for the media’s inability to resist painting a fallen celebrity as some kind of drug-addled miscreant. Tiger Woods deserves better. Meanwhile, the core issue continues to be ignored.

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