Dr. Peter Bourne's little series of sins in writing a forged prescription for a "recreational" drug has stirred a fuss here among those who see themselves as part of the "drug culture" or at least understand it.
The Washington Post in particular has gone into a high over this story. While its editorial page scolded Bourne and coldly rejected his alibis, the news pages have run acres about how we are becoming a nation of pot smokers and users of other drugs that provide escape.
There was a time when marijuana was outright considered bad, probably because "refers" were smoked mostly by Mexicans other Latins and, as they were called in those days, "Negroes." But then came the youth revolution and ways to stay out of Vietnam and make political statements like smoking pot in public or maybe even blowing it in a professor's face. Those were the Jerry Rubin days.
Marijuana thus became the proprietory interest of the young, white bourgeoisie, and heavens, as one liberal writer moaned at the time, "Those are our kids" (who tore Chicago apart during the Hubert Humphrey's hour of agony in 1968 and got beat up by the cops in the process).
Ah, time passes, and the tumultuous youth of 1968 are now 30 or beyond and some are in Jimmy Carter's administration, drawing in big money and puffs of marijuana smoke as well. Some have even gone to "the champagne of illicit drugs" - cocaine - as Bourne himself reportedly did.
Now The Post labors over the dilemma of those poor young souls in the White House and on Capitol Hill. They want their marijuana and cocaine along with a high salary and the power to lay expensive programs on the American people. But they don't want their reputations damaged.
The "different world" outside Washington, one such soul is quoted as saying, will think "that a bunch of wild-eyed freaks on acid are running the country. They'll say, 'No wonder the government's screwed up.' It'll destroy credibility for our programs."
Tsk, tsk, and too bad. If those aging youths who raged against the double standards in the Nixon administration now think they can live and work by the same measure, we do indeed have a mushy-minded, naughty scout troop presided over by a native scoutmaster.
The primary question isn't whether the youth culture graduates can retain their vices while in the employ of the most celebrated born-again citizen in the country. No, the basic question is, are grown-up people honest enough to admit that the steady use of marijuana and other drugs eventually inflicts a penalty on the body and mind?
Ever since the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse issued an ambivalent report in 1972, the prints have tipped toward pieces on how marijuana isn't addictive or dangerous. It isn't addictive, but taken in large amounts or frequently, it can be quite dangerous, as an array of medical specialists have testified.
Those who defend marijuana or want to legalize it usually admit that the long-term consequences of its use aren't really determined. But there are studies galore showing that, used in substantial amounts, marijuana can cause brain damage (including psychosis) renders its users more susceptible to infectious disease, can contribute to lung and bronchial disease and early emphysentia can lower the sperm count in males and retard sexual development in pubescent boys.
This whole story was brought out in hearings conducted by the Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security back in 1974, but the consequent report was ignored by the "big" media.
One of the best arguments made in that report came from Prof. W.D.M. Paton of Oxford University. He pointed out that the body eliminates the drug alcohol in a few hours, but holds the chemicals in marijuana for weeks or months, that few people decide to get drunk and then drink alcohol until they reach that goal but that users of marijuana and other drugs take them for the specific purpose of getting "high," and that while alcohol leads to hangovers, regular use of marijuana - though not addictive - often leads good souls into hashish, cocaine, mescaline and nowadays, that dangerous stuff called "angel dust."
If people want to smoke pot, sniff cocaine or use other drugs, they probably will. Similarly the majority of Americans will be disturbed to hear any reports that some in Jimmy Carter's crew use drugs. All right.
But it is not clear minded to use drugs and ignore the knowledge that they can be very harmful, or to assume that being part of the righteous team that got elected in 1976 ensures immunity from criticism from the millions of Americans who don't use "recreational" drugs. There is no free lunch in saloons these days or in salons where cocaine is sniffed.