Pubdate: Sun, 01 Aug 1999 Date: 08/01/1999 Source: Harper's Magazine (US) Author: Stephen Young Joshua Shenk's report is illuminating, but he largely ignores the value of the distinction between legal drugs and illegal drugs as a form of social control. Compare, for example, marijuana and Ritalin. No one knows the long-term effects of Ritalin, the pills prescribed for attention deficit disorder. The drug doesn't work for everyone. There is no consensus on how it relieves symptoms. Reports of non-prescription use by people seeking a high are increasing. But the act of filling a prescription for a child just out of kindergarten is met with a sympathetic nod from the government. Seek a prescription for marijuana, and the same government is aghast: The long-term effects are unknown! It doesn't work for everyone! We don't know how it relieves symptoms! People use it to get high! Because marijuana, more than other illegal drugs, serves as an emblem of American nonconformity, many embrace it as a powerful symbol. The crusade against marijuana offers a way in which we can legally root out and punish those who refuse to adhere to the expectations of authority. Those who are caught are labeled and corrected. Ritalin ultimately brings its users to the same conformist place, with the help, of course, of our approving government. It is telling that instead of separating people from mind-altering chemicals, authority sometimes asserts itself through its sanction of mind-altering chemicals. Of course, the two drugs treat different maladies. AIDS wasting syndrome, for which marijuana may relieve suffering, threatens lives, but ADD threatens order in the classroom. Another difference is that unlike Ritalin, marijuana has no known toxic dosage. Stephen Young Roselle, Ill.