Dana Beal is not the first person facing a prison term to say that if you’d just let me go, I won’t do it again and will do good things for mankind.
But he may be the first to get people to travel from New Zealand and New York to make that case for him.
Beal, 65, is one of the original Yippies, a counter-culture group from the ’60s that specialized in tweaking the establishment. They’re the bunch who disrupted the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago (though better-known Yippies, like Abbie Hoffman, led that violent protest).
Beal, whose residence is the Yippie Museum in New York City, is best known for organizing annual rallies for the legalization of marijuana.
In recent years, he’s focused his attention to legalizing ibogaine, a hallucinogenic extract from a West African shrub that Beal claims can cure all sorts of drug addictions, and cure them more effectively and less expensively than traditional methods.
But Beal, whose wild grey mustache gives him the appearance of Gen. George Custer, is facing some trouble in Nebraska. In 2009, he was arrested while riding in a van hauling more than 150 pounds of baled marijuana across the state.
A judge rejected his arguments that he should be freed because he was hauling the pot for use by AIDs patients and others as medicine, to relieve pain, shrink tumors and enhance appetites.
Beal plans to appeal on the grounds that he was commiting the “lesser of two evils” in obtaining pot for sick people on the East Coast, but meanwhile, he will be sentenced on Dec. 10 for dealing marijuana. He is looking at a few more months behind bars.
The prosecutor in Wahoo, Neb., has said that Beal deserves to go to prison because of his disrespect for the law. That’s because after his arrest in Nebraska, Beal was arrested for the same crime, with another van-load of pot, in Wisconsin.
But a bevy of supporters plan to attend Monday’s sentencing hearing in hopes of convincing Nebraska Judge Mary Gilbride to have mercy on the frail Beal, who had two, taxpayer-funded heart surgeries while in jail in Wisconsin.
One who will testify came all the way from New Zealand.
Marie Cotter of Auckland, N.Z., said that because of Beal’s advocacy, ibogaine was approved as a treatment in her country for drug addiction. The treatment, she said, saved her 38-year-old from depression and being hooked on methamphetamines.
Cotter said it might sound too good to be true, but only one treatment of ibogaine has removed her son’s craving for meth, a highly addictive form of speed. Beal, she said, needs to be out of prison so he can get the treatment legalized in other countries and help more addicts.
”I know Dana broke the law and he has to pay for that,” Cotter said. ”But Dana broke the law to help other people.”
”If Dana was a pusher or drug dealer, I would have nothing to do with him,” added the 64-year-old social worker. “But if he has a cause, he’ll do everything he can for it.”
Beal has burned up his credit card making phone calls from jail to plead his case with reporters. He’s also lined up a handful of the top experts on the use of marijuana as medicine to testify in his behalf.
His case comes up at an interesting time. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have now legalized marijuana as medicine. And voters in two states, Washington and nearby Colorado, decided last month to take an extra step and make pot legal for recreational use.
In Nebraska, the idea of legalizing pot for any purpose hasn’t even gotten to the batter’s box, much less anywhere near first base.
But you hear from more and more people — and people who are regular, and even conservative, Joes — argue that marijuana has helped people deal with cancer and chronic pain. Bob Kerrey didn’t hide — during his ill-fated run to return to the U.S. Senate — from his belief that it also helps veterans deal with post-traumatic stress syndrome.
It’s pretty hard to say that someone who dodged bullets for our country doesn’t deserve a treatment that might provide some relief from the nightmares caused by that act of patriotism.
But public opinion may not matter when an aging hippie goes to court on Monday.