There hasn't been a case of Reefer Madness like this since last fall when one Michigan state representative hit another one over the head with a heavy ashtray, name-calling him a "pot-smoker."
For the past two weeks it appears that every Washington reporter worth his salt has been sent out sniffing around for cocaine tales or to prove that where there is smoke in government, there is marijuana.
While it is unlikely that we'll have a Potgate, the Dr. Peter Bourne affair moved, as he said, from an investigation into his medical conduct, to his personal conduct, to the personal conduct of the entire White House staff. The story was passed with the speed of a joint going around a room full of college students. Every paper has had a drag of it.
For my own taste, there is something unseemly about the notion of media people, like Jack Anderson's associate Gary Cohn, sharing with their sources one night and reporting on them the next morning. Talk about your Smoke and Snitch journalism. It leaves me with a rather smarmy feeling - rather as if I'd swallowed a sweat sock. It's not that I'm in favor of gentlemen's agreements between reporters and public officials, but on this one, I'm sympathetic to the White House.
We are not only witnessing a double standard between what is acceptable off duty behaviour for politicans and journalists; we also have another example of people caught in the double, triple, quadruple standards of what passes for a national drug policy.
Our drug laws look as if they were created by The Shadow immediately after he returned from the Orient with his mysterious ability to cloud men's minds.
We live in a country where any 21-year-old can drink himself or herself to death. But a terminal-cancer patient can't legally get heroin to alleviate the most inhuman kind of pain. Somewhere on the road between our attitudes toward "booze" and "horse" is our coke stand and this enormous pot-hole full of marijuana laws.
This is a never-never land where pot is legally, but not necessarily criminal. In one state you can smoke it, but you can't grow it. In another state you can possess a little of it, but not a lot of it. In a third state you can get fined for smoking it, while across the border you can be thrown in jail for it.
But at no time, in any state, will you have difficulty finding a law-abiding, conservative druggists who sells E - Z Wider paper between his Pampers and aspirin.
There are undoubtedly more people drank during that highly dubious experiment known as Prohibition. (If anyone in the audience believes that the White house workers teetotaled their way from 1919 to 1933, will he please clap for Tinkerbell?)
The only discernible, sensible trend you can find in drug policy today is the one toward "decriminalization."
For good reasons we are uneasy about "legalizing" any more drugs. Visions of prime-time "Acapulco Gold" ads dance in our heads. But over the past years, we have come up with a compromise - decriminalization - means that the government neither condones nor severely punishes marijuana smoking. Already decriminalized in 10 states in various forms, pot smoking is slowly becoming in law what it has been in effect: a private matter.
But the events in Washington over the past two weeks have worked against that trend in a most destructive way. The Carter administration, which supports "privacy" as its public drug policy, has been forced to take a hard line toward its own personnel. Those Carter people who used marijuana socially now show us how quickly privacy, once invaded, returns to secrecy.
The only thing accomplished by this aggresive/regressive waving of the double standard is retreat. As one of the Carter staffers said, "If you think we were clannish before, you ain't seen nothing yet."