I parked my patrol car by the station pumps to have some water splashed on my dirty little window to the world. The trustee doing the splashing was actually an inmate, one of the county's low-risk offenders working off custody time - probably for a drug-related crime - by performing menial tasks at various sheriff's substations. The "war on drugs" takes prisoners, you see.

The trustee probably wouldn't have been in his predicament had he not already enslaved himself to his habits.  As I stared at the man through the soapy tempered glass, it was easy to picture him as an older version of friends I'd had in school who identified themselves as "stoners." They hung out in places like bowling alleys, malls and the ubiquitous "smokers' corner." They could be found in darkened movie theaters, passing their narcotic origami back and forth among themselves. Often, I was the third wheel.

My friends weren't selfish, but they weren't stupid, either. As my abstinence guaranteed there'd be that much more pot for themselves, they dispensed with any overtures of peer pressure. Sitting there, watching the smoke from their Zig-Zags float upward through the prismatic colors of some animated Disney re-issue and getting a vicarious high, I'd be lying if I said I hadn't enjoyed every minute of it.

While the intervening years have not seen me sampling the Devil's Weed in any manner, how many of my friends could make the same claim today?

I do know that there are many other narcotic offenders incarcerated in various other department Gulags throughout the country.

When it comes to the predilections of others, my philosophy is: Neither an apologist nor absolutist be. But I do pause every time I hear our drug policy referred to as a "war on drugs." Stopping the flow of drugs in this country is a lot like having bailing duty on the Titanic.

The rhetoric attached to the drug war debate runs the gamut from "shoot them if they're using" to let's "legalize everything." My sensibilities lean toward decriminalization. But then, I resent being my brother's keeper. I suspect my brother isn't too wild about it, either. I'm inclined to believe that those predisposed to using drugs will do so regardless of legal sanctions. I'm not sure the William S. Burroughses of the world could just say no or that Keith Richards knows the meaning of the word.

In any event, this prohibition doesn't seem to be cutting it, and good cops are paying the price. They pay for it when they get shot by black marketers. They pay for it when they are vicariously stigmatized by acts of less-ethical peers profiting by the drug war.  They pay for it when they are routinely accused of racism because the demographics of their booking cages don't mirror a more politically correct ideal.  And they pay for it thanks, in part, to the apathy of an alleged "silent majority" that ostensibly supports their efforts.

The dire predictions of what will happen if decriminalization comes to pass make those for Y2K seem mild.  Under the influence of LSD, meth and the full moon, they'll come - bombed, blitzed and plastered, a nation of speed freaks, tweakers, and cokeheads and their inevitable offspring, the crack babies.

Well, guess what, folks: They're already here. And if these winners do go out and commit crimes while under the influence of drugs, there are already laws on the books to deal with such eventualities. The freeing up of jail and prison cells currently filled with nonviolent offenders would mean we could lock away society's less civilized for longer periods of time.

The answer to the drug problem lies in a variety of factors. Education is one. Good parenting is another. Also, while drug abuse is stupid, romanticizing its use through popular culture is more so. Finally, let's not be afraid to pass judgment.

Of course, all this begs the question: Who, then, will wash our patrol cars? That's easy. Idealistic cops.

Sgt. Dean Scoville is a patrol supervisor for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and a longtime, regular contributor to POLICE. His views and opinions that may be inferred from this article are his alone and not representative of any official position or policy of the LASD.