When you tune into the first presidential debate next week, expect a few pot shots.
Longtime yippie leader Dana Beal intends to march with a 51-foot replica of a marijuana joint at Hofstra University in Long Island. He’s hoping it’ll get the attention of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has thus far failed to respond to a letter that pot activists hand-delivered to her Brooklyn campaign office in June. In it, they called on the Democratic nominee to remove cannabis from a federal list of dangerous drugs should she win the White House in November.
“She’s the leading candidate and we’re going to dog her steps,” said Beal, 69, during a series of interviews with B+B, including one at at 9 Bleecker Street in Noho, site of his now defunct Yippie! Museum, and another at a 6th Avenue eatery not far from his rent-free apartment in a synagogue. “We’re going to take the joint to the inauguration,” he said later.
The 50-pound marijuana cigarette is actually a long plastic bag that can be inflated with air “like a leaf blower,” Beal said. It first appeared in a “smoke in” outside of the White House over a weekend in April, painted with the words, “Obama, Deschedule Cannabis Now!” That phrase referred to Schedule One of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, signed into law by president Richard Nixon. It puts cannabis in the same category as heroin and deems it an illegal drug without any medical value.
The Controlled Substances Act, administered by the Drug Enforcement Administration, remains in effect today despite a cascade of states that have legalized marijuana. All are in defiance of federal law.
Both the smoke-in and giant joint were the brainchild of pot activist Adam Eidinger, 41, who led a successful 2014 ballot measure battle that resulted in the legalizing of marijuana in the nation’s capital. Eidinger said he was inspired to organize the demonstration after comic Bill Maher, puffing on a real joint during his HBO show in February, told pot smokers that their rights were at risk and that activists had “not done enough” to decriminalize marijuana. “He’s used the inflatable joint on his show,” said Eidinger, a member of the DC Cannabis Campaign. For his part, Eidinger also staged the smoke-in to protest the “5 million marijuana arrests” he said have been made during Obama’s administration.
Beal joined hundreds of protestors who toked up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He later marched on July 25 from Philadelphia’s City Hall to the Wells Fargo Center, domain of the Democratic National Convention, where the joint was held aloft in the sweltering summer heat. Eidinger and his comrades next took the joint to demonstrations in New York City, at spots like Times Square, and later dropped it off at Beal’s “ramshackle house” in the Garment District. By then, Beal had changed the sign on the joint to read: “Hillary, Deschedule Cannabis Now.”
He’s no stranger to mass protests, having organized rallies for varied radical causes dating back to the 1960s in downtown Manhattan. Beal, who grew up in Michigan, founded the Global Marijuana March in 1999, when he was operating out of 9 Bleecker St, also his residence since the early 1970s.
On Sept. 7, the mustachioed activist and a loose-knit group of about 25 other pot advocates who call themselves the JOINT Operation Strikeforce brought the immense piece of plastic grass to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in lower Manhattan, where Clinton and her rival Donald Trump were separately grilled at a commander-in-chief forum by NBC’s Matt Lauer. In a post on Facebook, Beal said that the authorities at the scene “absolutely wouldn’t let us hold it up!” But they managed to find a place for the joint at night and erected an electrified sign that read in large letters: “Deschedule.”
Late last week, Beal returned to his old haunt at 9 Bleecker Street where he talked about another political event in advance of the presidential debate with Joey Goodwin, 31-year-old founder of Overthrow boxing gym. Goodwin took over Beal’s debt-ridden Yippie! Museum in 2014 after foreclosure proceedings.
Cash-strapped Beal was hoping Goodwin would let him use the gym’s colorful anti-Trump voter registration truck to transport the joint to an annual weekend “freedom festival” in Boston where pot smokers and activists gather. He figured that both the truck and the joint would spur rally attendees to vote and also to join the marijuana demonstration at Hofstra University this coming Monday.
“Hillary has to get elected because the Republicans have fucked up on marijuana every single time,” Beal said shortly before he spoke to Goodwin. “But the Democrats have put legalization into their platform and Bernie [Sanders] has a bill in the Senate that could be enacted with an executive order by Hillary Clinton. But I won’t hold my breath,” he added.
As it turned out, Goodwin will be driving his truck to the Hofstra debate with the joint folded up inside. But he wouldn’t give Beal a green light to take his vehicle across state lines and into Massachusetts before the event.
“It’s an old truck and I don’t want it to go that far,” Goodwin said later in a telephone conversation. “But I helped Dana with car fare to Boston. Dana is relentless,” he added with a chuckle. “Sometimes I feel like a guest at 9 Bleecker. I’m running the show, but I know there are historical factors that came along before us.”
Beal, who has been arrested numerous times and sometimes jailed for his activism over the decades, including two 9-month sentences for transporting marijuana in vans through America’s heartland, was focused on answering questions about the election the next day. “I had a bad dream this morning,” he admitted. “Trump won. People were standing around and it was like Ronald Reagan.”
Both Trump and Clinton support legalization of medical marijuana. Beal, however, believes that a president Trump would damage the cause because of the company he keeps. “The main advisers to Trump are Christie and Giuliani,” he said, alluding to the Republican governor of New Jersey and the former mayor of New York City. “Both are bent out of shape on marijuana. Christie campaigned on rolling back on marijuana and Giuliani shut down the annual pot parade.”
But why does he support Clinton, whose husband, former president Bill Clinton, signed a crime bill in 1994 that led to massive incarceration of black people for possessing marijuana? “I’m in favor of Hillary Clinton because that’s all we’re going to get,” Beal said.