POLICE CHIEF John E. McHale Jr. of Prince George's County hardly deserves the public attack he has taken for expressing his views on marijuana. Chief McHale neither suffered "a temporary lapse of sanity," as County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan suggests, nor made the county's police force a "laughing stock," as the force's union leader, Laney Hester, says.

Chief McHale simply compared the difficulty of enforcing the existing marijuana laws with the difficulty, half a century ago, of enforcing the prohibition laws. His conclusion -- that society should make the use of marijuana legal just as it made legal the use of alcoholic beverages -- is far from being the outrage claimed, whether you agree with it or not (and it happens we don't).

Chief McHale thinks his police force is engaged in a war it cannot win, and he appears to be right. Local police forces cannot possibly control the distribution and use of marijuana. If its use and that of other drugs are to be controlled, the place to do it is not on the streets and playgrounds of Prince George's County (or the District of Columbia) but at the nation's borders and in those areas where the plants are grown and refined.

Chief McHale's other point was that, from a law-enforcement standpoint, the damage done by alcohol is far greater than that done by marijuana. Despite new evidence that smoking marijuana is detrimental to health, what destruction it has caused by alcohol. Drunkenness, including drunken driving, which causes 60 to 70 deaths every day, is this country's biggest public health problem.

Those two points may not be enough to convince you that the use of marijuana should be legalized. They don't complete the argument or win it for us. But they are certainly enough to justify the worry of a serious local police chief, like Mr. McHale, about his force's being drawn into a prolonged and costly no-win battle.