Bear with me a moment while I explain why being the next queen of England is sort of like being a cop in Washington. The wife of Prince Charles and, therefore, the likely next queen, had to be a virgin. Such things are rare in England as elsewhere, which explains why it took Charles such a long time to find his Diana. It will take the District just as long to find cops who have never smoked marijuana.

In both cases, we are looking for those rare birds who lack, at the very least, a certain zest for experimentation. This is contrary to the very nature of youth and it is, the statistics tell us, not usually the case. Survey after survey indicates that a rather small percentage of young people have never, but never, used marijuana. Such a person is probably not fit to be a police officer. What we do not need on the streets is the law enforcement version of a virgin.

Yet this is precisely what the District of Columbia is seeking. It wants police recruits who have not once in the last seven years availed themselves of the weed known as pot. It has tested its police recruits with a urine test that detects marijuana use going back maybe seven years. As a result, the police department suspended and is threatening to fire 39 recruits. It turns out, there is no urinary statute of limitations. Their urine ratted on them.

The chief of police for the moment, Maurice Turner, says that he can not both be making war on drugs and condone recruits who use some of those very drugs. He has a point, of course, but his point would be stronger and make more sense if he were talking about heroin or cocaine. The trouble is that he is talking about marijuana, which happens to be the recreational drug ordinaire--used by countless numbers of people, especially young people who would not think of using any other drug.

Marijuana research has got to be one of the great industries of America. You can hardly pick up a newspaper without reading of yet another study proving yet something else about the drug. There is proof positive that it either is the worst thing in the world for you, or it is virtually benign. The fact remains that most young people, especially the young people of a few years back, thought that marijuana was harmless.

Whatever the current belief, the fact of the matter is that the use of marijuana, especially if it is episodic and in the distant past, has nothing to do with a person's ability to perform as a police officer. Of course it's illegal, but we are all willing to put up with a degree of hypocrisy even when it comes to the police. Police officers sometimes park illegally when they are in their own cars, yet they will ticket you for doing the same. They speed or sometimes get drunk, yet they will enforce laws prohibiting others from doing the same.

The same is true when it comes to marijuana. Washington, after all, is not the sort of place where people get busted for smoking marijuana. It is, in fact, the sort of place where the City Council wants to regulate so-called head shops, not ban them. It is probably not too much to say, in fact, that under the present rules some of the city's politicians could not get jobs as policemen. Lucky for them, the voters don't insist on a urine test.

Even if the urine test is 100 percent accurate, the one-time or occasional use of marijuana, especially in the distant past, hardly justifies barring someone from employment. It is a harsh and unforgiving standard that will lose the District of Columbia good police officers and bring it, in return, nothing but countless lawsuits. After all, you cannot deprive a person of his livelihood any more and not hear from a lawyer.

Being a cop is something special and the city is right in demanding high standards for those who will carry a gun and wear a badge. But Chief Turner is dealing only with appearances when he attempts a nonexistent connection between Washington's problems with hard drugs and occasional marijuana use by some police recruits. That's not fair to the police recruits involved, not fair to the city as a whole and, in the end, benfits only the drug dealers of Washington. They must wonder at their good luck. After all, it is not every police department that fights the drug problem by busting itself.