The gatherings usually take place at lunch time, just a short distance away from the school building - far enough that the smell of marijuana cigarettes or pipes does not bring a teacher or vice principal to the scene.
At A.C Williams High School in Alexandira. Casey, a Junior, stands on the grounds near school where some students hold their noontime pot parties and announces. "We get high and there's nothing wrong with it. I can do all my work when I get high and it makes me participate in class more."
At high schools around the Washington area, many students speak the same language: the language of bongs and joints and Colombian. Marijuana is a part of heir shared culture, a rite of passage, a badge of belonging.
Its shock value gone for most suburban families, marijuana has become a staple of the social life of a growing number of teen-agers. A University of Michigan survey released last spring showed that one of 11 high school seniors smokes marijuana daily and more than half of high school students have tried it at least once.
Ten years ago, high school students daring to smoke marijuana generally had sneak their puffs at evening parties or in cars. Now that the drug's acceptance has become more widespread, the test of daring is not just in smoking marijuana, but smoking it at school.
"It's an antiestablishment thing on school grounds," said David Naimon, the nonvoting student member of the Montgomery County Board of Education. "Students like to see if they can get away with it."
A student who was arrested for smoking marijuana says that using the drug at lunch time helps break the boredom of the school day. "I don't like education too much and I like to go to class stoned."
This fall, the use of marijuana at school had become so blatant that Montgomery County police decided they couldn't ignore it any longer. They started to keep high school grounds under surveillance and, in the past two months, have made 256 marijuana-related arrests of students and other young people - some as young as 12 - on school grounds.
In some cases, however, the presence of police has provoked students to attempt greater feats of defiance. "If they're planning on stopping pot smoking at school they're totally nuts," said one student who was arrested. "They're just making it more exciting (to smoke)."
Rick Connors - his name has been changed, like the names of other youths in this story - is a short, thin, meek-mannered boy whose friends are tall and outgoing. He never used to get much attention, but now he is something of a celebrity at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington.
Four times in three weeks during September and October, Montgomery County police arrested Rick on charges of possession of marijuana. Each time, he was calmly enjoying a lunch time party with friends when police with handcuffs arrived and interrupted things.
Each time Rick was taken to the police station, a policeman would asked him why he wouldn't stop smoking marijuana.
"I just like partying," Rick would explain. "I like partying with everyone else."
Rick went to juvenile court recently. The judge told him he will be taken away from his friends at Einstein and put in a youth detention camp if police catch him smoking one more time. The idea depresses Rick.
"If I get caught again, they're going to put me away," he said, his eyes downcast. "They're going to take me away because I'm uncontrolable. Four times in three weeks is very incriminating."
Rick doesn't smoke marijuana at school any more. Now, he and his friends go to other places" - a friend's house or car, or wooded areas away from the school "where you can see cops but they can't see you."
On days when Rick and his friends remain on school grounds during their lunch period, they sit at the same place where they used to smoke marijuana. They talk about cars and about how boring school is, but mostly they commiserate about their experiences in getting arrested.
Catcalls, complaints and hostile stares greeted Montgomery County Police Chief Robert J. diGrazia as he arrived yesterday for an after-school meeting with students in the cafeteria of Bethesda's Walt Whitman High School.
"We're only doing our duty when we arrest you people for smoking or possessing pot," diGrazia said during the two-hour session as dozens of the 200 students present hissed or booed. "Our job is to publicize the the drug problem so that steps can be taken to correct the situation. I'd say we're doing a pretty good job."
The meeting, diGrazia's first with high school students since the drug raids began, was arranged by student government leaders at Whitman.
"Wouldn't you say that your raids are more disruptive to school business than marijuana smoking itself," asked one youth as others cheered.
"That's a matter of opinion," diGrazia said. "Look, I don't really want to get into the question of whether marijuana is right or wrong. There's a law on the books and we're going to enforce it until you can get together to change it."
John Scharff, a senior at Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville, "forgot" a bong in his room at home one day. When his mother saw it, she threw it away. Because his mother, Carol Scharff, finds it difficult to talk to her son about some things - "How do you talk to someone who doesn't respond?" she asked - she left a note on the desk in place of the bong.
In the note I said I could see changes in his judgment and I hated to see it happen to someone I care about," Carol Scharff said. She said she doesn't believe marijuana has directly caused her son's poor grades or caused him to be charged by police with leaving the scene of an car accident recently, but she does think it "contributes to an attitude of not coping."
"These kids are putting blankets over their heads," she said.
Her son disagrees. "Pot's not a heavy physical thing," he said. "It's no different from drinking four cups of coffee."
Two weeks after Mary was arrested on marijuana possession, charges outside her high school, a detective phoned and asked her and her mother to return to the police station.
Once there, they were told by the detective that Mary would have to spend several hours working for the county as punishment for smoking marijuana. He also told her that studies showed marijuana killed brain cells and caused birth defects.
Mary thought the detective sounded "right out of 'Reefer Madness'" a 1935 movie about people who kill a young woman because they have been smoking marijuana.
In fact, scientists who have studied the effects of marijuana are reluctant to draw any broad conclusions. "Marijuana as a compound should be put in perspective with the use of other compounds," said one government researcher.
It is less toxic than some other drugs, she said. "Nobody has ever died that we know from taking marijuana alone." Still, because of some of the leads that have come out of marijuana research - which has only been going on for about a decade - "we do have to be concerned about the use of marijuana (and effects) on women and on developing children," she said.
According to Mary Kelly, a spokeswoman for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, studies have shown that heavy or daily use of marijuana by adolescents can be risky because it interferes with learning and psychological development.
Students who do not go to high school in Montgomery County generally feel a bit sorry for those who go. They do not watn to worry about undercover police stalking the campus, as they do in Montgomery, waiting for students "to party" with marijuana.
"Are they gonna have those drug raids here?" asks a student at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington. "That would be a real bummer"
Although police in various Washington area counties say they are aware that large numbers of students use marijuana, they add that they do not intend to follow the example of the Montgomery County police raids.
Police base their decisions on insufficient manpower, on widespread acceptance of marijuana, and, in Arlington County, on a reluctance by juvenile judges to "waste time" on marijuana users.
And do the parties continue.
Two girls with curly blond hair sit on the grounds outside Woodson High School in Fairfax, explaining how they manage to smoke marijuana within 10 yards of the school building.
"At lunch time, there's like 70 people out here," says Judy. "Most of us are passing around a bowl or a jay. When a teacher comes out, someone whistles and we put everything out."
Her friend nods agreement. "But on windy days you can't get anything lit and it's a drag. Then we'll have to smoke inside.