WAHOO – Friends of marijuana legalization activist Dana Beal came from New Zealand, New York City and California on Dec. 10 to ask a judge to spare the 65-year-old Yippie a prison sentence.
Beal, they said, was not a profit-seeking drug pusher but a caring “pauper” who lived out of a backpack, and hauled pot so that people with AIDS, multiple sclerosis and other diseases could reduce their suffering.
“He has this problem: a conflict between the law and conscience, the law and helping people,” said Ed Rosenthal, a fellow advocate from California.
Their pleas didn’t work, even if they did make for good courtroom theater.
Beal, who lives in the Yippie Museum in New York City, was sentenced to four to six years in prison after being caught hauling 150 pounds of pot in a van in Ashland in 2009.
With good time and subtracting time served in jail awaiting sentencing, Beal will spend at least another 15 months behind bars. Rosenthal said it could have been worse.
Deputy Saunders County Attorney C. Jo Petersen had asked for eight to 12 years in prison, and Beal faced a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Petersen said that Beal’s disrespect for the law – he was arrested for hauling another load of marijuana in Wisconsin in 2011 after being released on bail from Nebraska – and lack of remorse warranted a long jail stay. Beal, she added, has seven other drug convictions, besides those in the last three years.
“We live in a society of laws, and Mr. Beal has chosen to violate those laws over and over and over again,” the prosecutor said. “At some point in time, he has to be held responsible.”
Beal is one of the original members of the Youth International Party or “Yippies,” an anti-establishment group from the 1960s. He is best known for launching an annual pro-marijuana protest called the “Global Marijuana March” held in cities across the globe.
In recent years, he’s been advocating the legalization of ibogaine, a substance Beal and his supporters believe can cure drug addiction.
But, according to those testifying on his behalf Monday, he’s also been a lead, cross-country courier for the past 15 years for loads of affordable marijuana to supply a “buyers’ club” in New York City of about 1,000 people who use it for medicine.
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have now legalized marijuana for medicinal use, and two – Colorado and Washington – are poised to allow it for recreational use by adults.
But Nebraska, and New York City, are not among them, though one New Yorker said Monday that authorities look the other way when it comes to using pot for medicinal uses.
Beal may have broken the law here, his supporters said Monday, but he was doing it for people and pain relief, not profit. Several of those who came to Wahoo also attended his sentencing hearing last year in Wisconsin, when he was sentenced to two years in prison.
Marie Cotter of Auckland, New Zealand, said that Beal led the legalization of ibogaine treatments in her country, which allowed her son to end his addiction to methamphetamines and break his deep depression.
Sheila Steinberg of New York City, using a walker due to multiple sclerosis, said that marijuana does not cure her MS, but helps her deal with mood swings and concentration problems brought on by the disease.
Michael Binkley, also of New York, said that cannabis supplied by Beal has helped him survive AIDS since 1982.
“If he’s guilty, then the 1,000 members of the buyers club should be in prison, too,” Binkley said. “We exploited Dana.”
For his part, Beal said he wants to continue his advocacy of ibogaine, and that he’s too old and unhealthy to haul marijuana anymore. (He had two heart surgeries while in prison in Wisconsin and says he needs hernia surgery now).
“What I was doing is as obsolete as the Titanic,” Beal said, due to the legalization of pot as medicine in several states.
But Saunders County District Judge Mary Gilbride said that Beal deserved to go to prison, citing his second marijuana trafficking conviction in Wisconsin. His sentence was slightly tougher than two others arrested with him, who got prison terms of three to four years and two to three years, respectively.
Beal’s sentence might be reduced by another 126 days. His attorney, Glenn Shapiro of Omaha, said he hadn’t been given proper credit for time spent in jail in Wisconsin on a detainer for Nebraska.