Deborah Frantz describes herself as one of an estimated 40 million marijuana smokers in the country. She says she smokes pot in the privacy of her Alexandria home, holds down a steady job in a Washington law office and wants to repeal laws that she says treat marijuana smokers like "we're all gutter bums."

If Frantz, 25, has her way, that issue will finally become a centrally campaign theme in a Northern Virginia congressional race this fall where Frantz has gotten her name on the ballot as an independent in a threeway 8th District contest.

She announced her candidacy in April, spent weeks in a drugstore parking lot collecting signatures on nominating petitions and just recently was certified as a bona fide candidate by the state Board of Elections.

"We have so many other problems facing us -- we shouldn't have to worry about throwing normal people in jail for smoking marijuana in the privacy of their homes," said Frantz, a Northern Virginia native.

Frustrated in her attempts to get elected representatives to take her repeal concerns seriously, Frantz said, she launched her own campaign so voters could show what they really think about marijuana laws.

"Other candidates don't treat the issue as important or they worry it will damage their political careers," she said. "Well, I don't need to be concerned with that."

The 8th District race is regarded as a close contest between the Democratic incumbent, Herbert E. Harris II, and the Republican he ousted from Congress in 1974, Stanford Parris. Though Frantz's supporters say her candidacy will most likely hurt Harris, the Democrat's campaign manager says Frantz probably will draw votes from both Democratic and Republican camps.

Frantz needed 1,012 signatures from registered voters living in Alexandria, southern Fairfax County, Prince William County or northern Stafford County to get on the ballot. She said she got most of them from sympathizers who were over 40, not from 18 to 28 year-olds.

"The majority of the people who signed don't think you should use marijuana, and they don't want their children or friends to use it," she said.

"But they don't think you should go to jail for it."

Frantz said she does not see herself as a one-issue candidate, adding that she opposes reliance on nuclear power and supports abortion rights for all women. But she "got so aggravated by the other candidates" ignoring the marijuana issue that she decided to stress it in her campaign.

She also criticized past attempts to decriminalize and reduce penalties for using the drug, arguing that it is "hypocritical" to allow possession of small amounts of marijuana, yet penalized those who buy, sell or produce it.

"They let you have it, but you can't get it -- as though the marijuana fairy comes in and slips it under your pillow," Frantz said.