Pubdate: Tue, 28 Aug 2012
Source: Omaha World-Herald (NE)
Copyright: 2012 Omaha World-Herald Company
Author: Paul Hammel


WAHOO, Neb. - One of the original Yippies, a counterculture group 
from the '60s, is hoping to turn a criminal case against him in 
Nebraska for hauling marijuana into a judicial showdown over allowing 
pot for medical treatments.

And, like the protests the Yippies helped organize at the 1968 
Democratic National Convention in Chicago, he plans on bringing 
activists from across the country to help plead his case.

Dana Beal, now a frail 65-year-old with heart problems and a hernia, 
took the first step toward that legal strategy during a brief trial 
Monday morning in Saunders County.

Beal was arrested in Saunders County in 2009 after 154 pounds of 
fresh green pot, neatly packaged in plastic-wrapped bales, were found 
in the back of a van that he and two other men were in.

During the trial, Beal and his attorney consented to the basic facts 
of the case: that the seven bales of pot, displayed in court Monday, 
were found in his possession.

That admission almost assuredly will lead to a guilty verdict from 
District Court Judge Mary Gilbride of Wahoo, who is expected to 
announce her decision in about a week. She has already set Nov. 19 as 
the date to sentence Beal. He faces one to 20 years in prison.

Beal plans to pursue two courses of appeal. One is that Ashland, 
Neb., police illegally stopped the van. The other is a "choice of 
evils" defense: He argues that he chose to break drug laws to avoid a 
greater evil by letting AIDS patients and cancer sufferers in New 
York City go without their dosages of marijuana.

Gilbride rejected the use of the "choice of evils" defense by Beal, 
citing an unpublished 2000 legal ruling by the Nebraska Court of Appeals.

In that case, the court said, a man hauling marijuana for medical 
purposes, also to New York, had failed to establish that delivering 
drugs was "the least harmful alternative" available.

But Beal and his attorney, Glenn Shapiro of Omaha, feel that public 
opinion has changed, and that there now is evidence showing the 
medical benefits of marijuana.

They said that if they were allowed to present their "lesser of two 
evils" arguments to a jury - a request that could be granted if their 
appeal is successful - they could win, even in a conservative state 
like Nebraska, which is not among the 17 states that have legalized 
medical marijuana.

"The time is ripe for the court to at least review this," Shapiro 
said after Monday's trial. "Twelve years have elapsed. We have a 
whole lot of evidence about the medical uses of marijuana."

Beal, in a document presented to the judge Monday, said he was 
transporting the marijuana to a buyers club that he helped found in 1995.

Beal said he didn't transport the pot for profit; he did it because 
the buyers group could not obtain marijuana suitable for medical use 
and "sick patients" would suffer.

"Mr. Beal felt he had no other alternative," his statement read.

He said he doesn't plan on buying pot for the group again.

"I'm a little old," Beal said.

One member of the New York buyers club, Michael Binkley, called The 
World-Herald on Monday to voice support for Beal.

Binkley said that he has used marijuana, ground up in food, for 31 
years to manage AIDS, and it has prolonged his life.

"Every policy regarding marijuana is wrong," Binkley said. "It 
shouldn't be handed out like candy, but the people who need it for 
medicine should have access to it."

Both Binkley and another pro-medical marijuana advocate, Robert 
Melamede, a professor at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, 
hope to testify at Beal's sentencing hearing.

Melamede, in a phone call on behalf of Beal, maintained that 
marijuana can shrink cancer tumors and kill pain.

"He's absolutely right about the lesser of two evils," he said.

But the former director of PRIDE-Omaha Inc., a now-closed anti-drug 
group, disagreed strongly.

The medical benefits of marijuana are unproven, said Susie Dugan, who 
now is involved in an anti-legalization group called Drug Watch International.

"It's not medicine," Dugan said. "This is all about legalizing it so 
they can get high."

On Monday, prosecutor C. Jo Petersen had the bales of marijuana that 
were seized from Beal placed in the courtroom.

Beal, in addition to facing a potential prison sentence in Nebraska, 
is dealing with a conviction in Wisconsin. He was sentenced last 
September to five years behind bars after being caught with a van 
full of pot near Madison, Wis., in January 2011.

Beal said he wants to get out of jail so he can seek clinical trials 
for another illegal drug, ibogaine, which he says can cure addictions 
to heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs.

That work, he said, can be better achieved out of prison.
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