IN ITS CRIME log report on the city's third police district for November, the InTowner recently reported that a nightclub owner had called police to report that marijuana had been stolen from the club. The paper's small report of the incident said police closed the case with an arrest.

The news item raises interesting questions. Do police investigate the theft of an illegal substance, like marijuana? And if they do, what is the charge against the thief? Are charges filed against the person who was robbed? A spokesman for the D.C. police department says it is a crime -- larceny -- to steal anything of value. The exact charge depends on the value of the stolen goods. As for the person who complained of being robbed of marijuana, the police spokesman said, there is no proof that the person ever violated the law by possessing marijuana.

What actually happened? According to a vice squad detective, two officers responded to a burglar alarm at a nightclub and inside the club found a burglar who had a bag of "green weed" (thought to be marijuana) and nine cigarettes containing the weed. He was charged with burglary and possession of marijuana. The case and the question of whether the man was stealing marijuana will never reach court, however, the detective said, because the burglar was a fugitive from North Carolina and was extradited. But if the case had gone to court, an assistant U.S. attorney says, the office would not have prosecuted the case. "We don't enforce the property rights of illegal materials," she said. "If your marijuana is stolen, you are out of luck." The U.S. attorney's office also discourages police officers from arresting persons with less than one ounce of marijuana in their possession, according to a police spokesman.

The widespread use of marijuana is already a major challenge to the laws of the nation. The theft of marijuana amounts to a puzzle within that problem. But it is important to note that this is no playful puzzle. The theft of drugs often leads to grave crimes of violence. Instead of asking policemen to avoid marijuana smokers and ignore cases involving the theft of marijuana, it may be worth the U.S. attorney's effort to review the law.