No way does long time marijuana activist Dana Beal come across like a blissed-out stoner. In fact, the New York yippie leader sounded briskly analytical and often combative yesterday when discussing his latest arrest for pot trafficking–this one on December 16 in Northern California’s cannabis-rich Golden Triangle. It happened after a state trooper with a drug-sniffing dog stopped his rental car in the small rural community of Hayfork. He and driver James Statzer of Michigan were charged with possessing 22 pounds of weed for sale, a misdemeanor, and attempting to transport it across the state border.
The latter charge is a felony that could put Beal behind bars for four years despite California legalizing marijuana for recreational use on Jan. 1. Both he and Statzer, 51, pled not guilty and are free on bond.
Beal, 70, spent four days in the slammer before he could raise the required one tenth of the stiff $75,000 bail imposed on him during his first court appearance. “They tried to say I was like Al Capone with a machine gun,” he said indignantly in a telephone conversation with B+B, referring to Colleen Murray, the deputy district attorney of Trinity County who is prosecuting his case. “They were trying to make me out to be a common criminal out for short term gain and no higher purpose.” He added: “I’m just trying to complete my mission to bring ibogaine to the world.”
For decades, Beal has been a proponent of ibogaine, a substance, derived from an African shrub, that’s been illegal in the U.S. since 1969 because of its hallucinogenic properties. Beal considers it a superior cure for addiction to heroin and other hard drugs. He said he has received “donations in the form of marijuana” to create ibogaine clinics in Afghanistan in recent years and claims to have raised $15,000 because of his fame as a leader of the Global Million Marijuana March held every year around the world on May 1. (In 2016, Beal appeared at the march with a 51-foot-long inflatable joint.)
“We were set up to back ibogaine in 1999,” he noted of the movement that emanated from the notorious now-defunct yippie headquarters on 9 Bleecker Street, where Beal lived since the early 1970s until his eviction during forfeiture proceedings in 2014. “But we need more backers.”
Currently, Beal said he hopes to find some “Silicon Valley millionaire” who will donate a bundle of cash. “But until then I have to soldier on and use this case to draw attention to my cause.”
Informed of his mission promoting ibogaine, prosecutor Murray asked sardonically, “Is he a doctor?” She said that Beal “could be considered an activist but he could also be considered a drug dealer” who “believes the law doesn’t apply to him.” She said California has a strong case against him and Statzer, whom she said has a far shorter rap sheet than Beal. “You can’t transport [marijuana] out of state whether you give it away or give it to patients,” she said. “Four years is the maximum charge and [Beal] has quite a record of selling in other states. I don’t think it’s unreasonable that he could get one year.”
His next court hearing is January 24 and Beal, who describes himself as a “communist and a Marxist” minus a “Swiss bank account,” said he needs $5,000 to pay legal fees to his new San Francisco lawyer James Bustamante, who specializes in drug law cases.
Bustamante told us he couldn’t comment on his financial arrangement with Beal, but he observed: “Dana has a lot of support around the country. When the shit hits the fan, friends and supporters come and help you. We’re going to challenge the system that sees him as a drug dealer. Nothing is at first blush what it appears to be. There’s always a contextual perspective around a set of facts.”
He called Beal a “true believer, no question,” one among a group of intense advocates for medical marijuana who believe “it has an honest medicinal value in our society. The science is pretty much undisputed but there are politics involved.”
Beal’s case, he said, hinges around a California state trooper stopping his rental vehicle for a traffic violation— going below the speed limit– and then approaching the car with a canine that allegedly smelled an aroma of pot. Last year, Beal and Statzer were stopped in a similar situation by a state trooper in Oregon and were allegedly found carrying 50 pounds of pot in their vehicle. The judge in the case declined to proceed with that case because of irregularities found in the search, according to a memo obtained by the New York Daily News.
Ohio-born Beal has been imprisoned before for transporting large quantities of marijuana in vans– notably in Nebraska in 2009 and in Wisconsin in 2011. He suffered a near fatal heart attack in Wisconsin. Friends have reportedly been worried about his ability to survive another jail term given his health and age. Beal, however, seems poised for an aggressive defense before a jury and claims his multiple busts do not reflect a death wish. “I do not have a death wish. I was upset about the loss of the [Yippie] building,” he said of his heart attack.
“The current situation is not stable,” stated the wiry, white-haired man known as the Lenin of the marijuana movement. “Jeff Sessions might not be [in office] in three days. He could get fired,” he said of the U.S. Attorney General who recently rescinded the Obama administration’s policies limiting the enforcement of marijuana laws. “So you can’t predict what’s going to happen.”
Correction: Due to an editing error, Dana Beal’s location was misidentified in the caption that originally accompanied the first photo in this post.