THE MAYOR'S counsel admits to the courtroom that Marion Barry has been a user of cocaine. A number of people around town who ought to know better tend to dismiss the importance of this fact. "What's the big deal?" they ask. Why should we be concerned about what Marion Barry did in his private life? Besides, it was recreational use, and he was only victimizing himself.

Those who are blithely tossing off such statements are trying to bestow a degree of social acceptance, if not a label of innocence, on behavior that is at once lawless, dangerous and destructive and is as linked to the corpses in Southeast Washington as the Medellin cartel is linked to convicted drug kingpin Rayful Edmond III.

Victimless? Look at the families of these corpses, at the District's battle-scarred neighborhoods, at the consequences of the drug trade on this city's and this nation's values and well-being. Victimless? Tell that to a city that an impaired and compromised mayor has dragged through months of political and social turmoil and pain.

Cocaine users may be regarded by some as drug "victims" or foolish and self-destructive people. Interestingly, Mayor Barry didn't used to sound like that. Until he was found out as a drug abuser, he was fond of telling the citizens it was their bounden duty to turn in colleagues, family and friends they suspected of doing drugs, because the scourge of drugs was so devastating to our city. He liked to say he wished he could impose on traffickers even tougher penalties than were available to him. He said the reason he was helpless to control the rash of murders and related violence in the District was that the drug trade was out of control. There is a terrible injustice when a government leader who has charge of the police power uses it to punish people for what he himself is engaged in. But even so, in his assessment of the effect of the drug trade on Washington, Mayor Barry was right then, not now.

The fact is that the drug system that blights this city depends on these users. They are not innocents, and they are not heroes. The heroes, and the innocents and the real victims, are the overwhelming majority of our citizens who don't use and won't use drugs. People who indulge in the kind of spurious thinking, which attempts to wish away destructive behavior, perform a major disservice, not only to this community but to drug abusers as well. The last thing drug abusers need to hear from their "friends" is that what they did was not all that bad or that socially consequential. It is just one more attempt to derail the truth.