Pubdate: Tue, 12 Jun 2012
Source: Omaha World-Herald (NE)
Copyright: 2012 Omaha World-Herald Company
Author: Paul Hammel


WAHOO, Neb. - Back in the '60s, Dana Beal was one of the original 
Yippies - the radical, counterculture group known for disrupting the 
1968 Democratic National Convention and advocating legalization of 
drugs and a nation powered by people and not profit.

Years later, Beal organized marches calling for the legalization of 
marijuana and helped open a New York City clinic that dispenses pot 
to AIDS patients for medicinal purposes.

He's also the poster boy for the legalization of ibogaine, a plant 
extract that he contends can inexpensively and quickly cure addiction 
to heroin and methamphetamine.

But these days, the New York man says he's fighting for his life.

Beal, 65 and only nine months' removed from a serious heart attack, 
sits in a small-town Nebraska jail in an orange jumpsuit. He faces up 
to five years in prison after being arrested in 2009 near Ashland, 
riding in a van holding 150 pounds of baled marijuana.

Five years, he said, would amount to a death sentence because of his 
heart disease and would halt his work with ibogaine, a substance he 
says has saved countless lives.

So he has enlisted a novel legal argument: that he had a good excuse 
for breaking the law.

His attorney, Glenn Shapiro, is asking a judge to allow supporters to 
testify that Beal was choosing the lesser of two evils. It was either 
allow AIDS sufferers and others to go without the appetite-increasing 
benefits of marijuana, or break the law by hauling a load of pot 
across the country.

"I'm not a run-of-the-mill drug runner. I'm a medical advocate," Beal 
said, in an interview Monday at the Saunders County Corrections 
Center. "I had to do it. It was either this, or patients would have 
been left with moldy marijuana."

Saunders County District Judge Mary Gilbride took the matter under 
advisement after a brief court hearing Monday.

But Deputy Saunders County Attorney C. Jo Petersen called the 
argument "ludicrous" and "plain and simple, irrelevant."

Petersen told the judge it doesn't matter why someone is hauling 
marijuana or that its purported destination is not the streets of 
Nebraska but a clinic in the Big Apple.

What matters, she said, is that possession of marijuana is illegal 
here. Petersen said Beal's attorney is misreading a Nebraska statute 
that allows a "choice of evils" defense. That statute, she said, 
applies only to cases involving the use of force, not to marijuana trafficking.

Beal's life has been as colorful as a tie-dyed T-shirt.

The Ohio native, who sits on the board of the Yippie Museum in New 
York, has marched with the likes of Abbie Hoffman, been defended by 
famed lawyer William Kunstler and founded the "Yipster Times," which 
chronicled the highly theatrical and loosely organized Yippie 
movement. When he was busted in 1967 for possession of drugs, 3,000 
people marched in protest in New York City.

Beal was on the run in Canada when the Democratic Convention in 
Chicago turned bloody in '68, but he later returned to organize 
pro-marijuana "smoke-ins."

In recent years, Beal has crisscrossed the country to obtain medical marijuana.

In 2008, he was arrested in Illinois after police found two duffel 
bags containing $150,000 under a parked van in which he had been 
riding with three others.

Beal was eventually found guilty of misdemeanor possession of 
marijuana. He said the money was destined to help pay for a new 
medical clinic in New York, though he admitted that it was raised 
through sales of medical marijuana.

A couple of months after resolving the Illinois charge, Beal and two 
others were arrested in Saunders County after being stopped on U.S. Highway 6.

Things got worse for Beal in January 2011, when a van he was riding 
in with an Omaha man, Lance Ramer, was pulled over near Barneveld, 
Wis., holding nearly 170 pounds of marijuana.

Both times, Beal said Monday, he was hauling pot because a medical 
marijuana buying club he services in New York had almost run out. The 
club is organized by a group he founded called "Cures Not Wars."

A longtime friend, Dennis Brennan, said Beal began handing out 
marijuana free to AIDs patients in the early '80s in New York and has 
prided himself on obtaining low-cost, high-grade cannabis for people 
who couldn't afford it otherwise.

Brennan, who suffers from hepatitis C, said marijuana helps him and 
those with AIDS recover their appetite.

"Dana's been an amazing man," he said. "He's trying to save this 
world through herbal medication. He's not a man about profit."

A representative of the Marijuana Project, a national group that 
advocates for the legalization of marijuana, said Beal is known for 
his risky rides for pot.

"It's really unfortunate that he's facing long-term prison time just 
because he's trying to help sick people in his own jurisdiction," 
said the representative, Morgan Fox.

Beal said he has been involved in obtaining marijuana for medical 
purposes since the early '90s.

"I've lost my edge, and I'm too sick," he said. "I wouldn't have got 
caught when I was 40."

Beal hopes the Saunders County judge will consider his bad health as 
a mitigating factor. His heart stopped during his heart attack last 
September, as he was about to begin his Wisconsin prison term. He had 
a heart stent installed in February after a second, milder heart attack.

Taxpayers won't want to pay for more hospital bills, he said.

He offered to help Nebraska addicts get ibogaine treatments if he is 
sentenced to a few months of prison, concurrent with the remainder of 
his sentence in Wisconsin, which could extend into next April.

Both his attorney and the prosecutor said they've never seen a 
marijuana case in Nebraska in which the defense seeks to convince a 
jury that the trafficker had a good reason to break the law.

If the judge allows the lesser-evil testimony, the case would provide 
a platform for testimony about the virtues of marijuana as a 
medicine. That remains a controversial subject, even though 17 states 
and the District of Columbia have legalized pot for medical purposes. 
(Nebraska and Iowa are not among the states.)

As he sat on a plastic chair in a jail interview room, Beal said he 
has learned his lesson. He's too old and sick to haul marijuana 
again, he said, and wants to spend his waning years proving that 
ibogaine is an effective treatment for addiction, not wasting away in prison.

"What kind of a drug runner comes up with a cure for drug addiction?" 
Beal asked.
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