In the matter of Tim Kraft, accused of using cocaine on at least one occasion, there are plenty of scapegoats. Some people blame whoever it was who fingered Kraft and some blame the new ethics law that triggered the investigation and some people blame the special prosecutor. The real culprit, though, is a drug law that treats even the occasional use of cocaine as what used to be called a federal case. That's the real crime here.

Kraft is the high Carter campaign official who took a leave of absence when it was disclosed that a special prosecutor in New Orleans is investigating charges that he snorted cocaine on at least one occasion. And that investigation, it turns out, stems from an earlier one involving Hamilton Jordan, once the president's chief of staff, now Numero Uno in the campaign and, by virtue of an FBI investigation, one of the few people his age (he's 36) who can prove he never took cocaine.

As a result of these charges and the consequent appointment of two -- count 'em, two -- special prosecutors, a howl of indignation-cum-outrage has been directed at the Ethics in Government Act which some people think is at the root of all this misery. It was enacted in 1978 as a post-Watergate reform measure and it is sort of mindlessly triggered whenever someone brings a serious charge against a high federal official. This is what happened in the Jordan case and that case led to this one. Someone talked.

The trouble with the Kraft case is not the Ethics Act, but this business of making all drug offenses a serious crime. It is not the fault of the Ethics in Government Act that snorting cocaine is treated the same as murder or "deep sixing" evidence. Cocaine might send chills down your spine and conjure up images of addiction, crime and, in short order, potter's field, but to many people -- many of them young -- it is just another recreational drug -- sort of marijuana gone uptown.

In Hollywood and New York and other places where people sometimes have more money than sense, cocaine is as common at parties as cheese dip. Stan Dragoti, the film director, Robert Evans, the producer and, in his own way, Richard Pryor are just three Hollywood types who have had brushes with coke -- and the law. And if you think that coke is somehow associated only with the entertainment industry, think again. Many sports figures have had their day in court because of their choice of drugs.

What the drug is associated with is money, and to a certain extent youth. (One estimate is that one-third of all Americans between the age of 18 and 25 have tried either cocaine or heroine.) The upshot is that you don't have to be a pusher, a seller or some sort of street character out of a

This is not to say that someone who snorts coke while on the White House staff does not have serious problems of judgment.He or she does. But whatever his problems of judgment, snorting cocaine once or twice or even occasionally is a matter of lifestyle. It has nothing at all to do with anyone's ability to do a job, keep a secret or advise the president of the United States. The charge here, after all, is one-time use. No one has said anything about addiction, or taking coke with such frequency that you would have to ask questions about where the money is coming from.

To a whole lot of people, asking if they know anyone who has ever used cocaine smacks of a kind of McCarthyism. It is like asking about one's lifestyle or political beliefs, about one's drinking or sexual habits or how you part your hair. The nearly instinctive response is to ask what the question has to do with anything -- anything having to do with job performance.

The answer in Kraft's case is that it has to do with judgment, in the appearance of the White House -- in a whole lot of things. But that is a matter for the president, for the voters, not for some special prosecutor. It is not that much different from Wilbur Mills' drinking. That was his business, his wife's business, his constituents' business and the business of the Congress where he was, after all, a leader. But it was not the business of the law -- not, at any rate, until he ran off the road.

The problem with the Kraft case is not the new ethnics law or the special prosecutor, but instead our refusal to really distinguish between selling drugs and taking drugs, between committing a crime in which someone or something is hurt and doing something that is either innocuous or, at the very worst, personally damaging. What the Kraft case proves is not that we are hung up over Watergate and government ethics, but instead that we are hung up over drugs.