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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I'm responding to the letter in your column from our federal drug czar, Barry R. McCaffrey. The general is not an M.D. or social worker, and isn't qualified to speak on the drug problem. None of what he suggests will prevent drug abuse. Furthermore, he recently made himself look foolish with his inaccurate statement that Holland has a higher crime rate than the United States due to Holland's liberal drug policies. In fact, Holland has a much lower crime rate and a lower rate of drug abuse than the U.S. Obviously, Holland's moderate approach works far better than our draconian criminal approach.

The United States should follow Holland's good example and make a distinction between marijuana and hard drugs. The alleged dangers of marijuana have been absurdly exaggerated. There is a growing mountain of hard scientific evidence that marijuana is not harmful unless used in very large doses. By lying about the dangers of marijuana, we cast doubt on the warnings about truly dangerous cocaine, LSD, heroin and designer drugs.

We shouldn't ruin the lives of young people -- or anyone else -- by jailing them for smoking marijuana, nor should sick people be denied medical marijuana.

I have read your columns for 25 years, Abby. You have good sense. I hope you'll seriously consider that prohibition is not preventing abuse or addiction, but is instead greatly worsening the drug situation. Prohibition didn't work with alcohol, and is an even bigger failure with marijuana. -- STEVE J. WILCOTT, SAN FRANCISCO

DEAR STEVE: I agree that marijuana laws are overdue for an overhaul. I also favor the medical use of marijuana -- if it's prescribed by a physician. I cannot understand why the federal government should interfere with the doctor-patient relationship, nor why it would ignore the will of a majority of voters who have legally approved such legislation.

However, regardless of whether Gen. McCaffrey is right or wrong about the crime rate in Holland, I'm staunchly behind his effort to initiate dialogue between concerned parents and children about drugs. Honest dialogue is essential. Parents must level with their children about which drugs are dangerous and which are not, or they'll lose their credibility and be disregarded. This is especially important at a time when drug dealers offer an array of new designer drugs -- some virtually undetectable, and some of which can be fatal.

An excellent book on the subject of marijuana is "Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts" by Lynn Zimmer, Ph.D., and John P. Morgan, M.D., published by the Lindesmith Center in New York. It can be ordered through Bookworld Cos. by calling (800) 444-2524. The cost is $12.95 per book, plus $3.95 per book shipping and handling. When ordering, please provide the following ISBN number: 0-9641568-4-9.

CONFIDENTIAL TO MY READERS: Debtors Anonymous has moved. The new address is P.O. Box 888, Needham, Mass. 02492-0009. The Web address is:

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