Medical Marijuana Activist from New York Pleads Not Guilty

New York medical marijuana activist Dana Beal pleaded not guilty to two pot charges in California Tuesday. Judge has snuffed his request for a bail reduction.

The prominent member of the Youth International Party, a 1960s counter-culture group better known as the Yippies, appeared in a Trinity County courtroom on Tuesday. New York medical marijuana activist Dana Beal and another man tried to transport 22 pounds of marijuana over state lines Saturday in a car with Minnesota plates.

Beal, 70, faces up to four years behind bars if convicted.

“He certainly shouldn’t be sitting in jail. He’s obviously an activist, so he’s not going to run from these charges. There’s no reason to keep his bail so high,” defense lawyer Tom Ballanco told the Daily News.

Ballanco said Beal made a special plea to the judge to reduce his $75,000 bail. He mentioned his prior surgery for a 2011 heart attack suffered while in custody on a different case.

“He certainly mentioned he has an existing heart condition. That is a concern. But I think his spirits are good,” Ballanco said. “He’s a true believer.”

The lawyer then questioned the legality of the vehicle search.

medical marijuana activist
Dana Beal Irvin, the grandee of the free marijuana movement and pioneer of Ibogaine. via International Times

“My hunch, based on patterns of law enforcement, is that this was a pretext stop based on out-of-state plates. I think we’ll focus on the merits of the search and whether they even belonged at the side of the road in the first place,” Ballanco said.

Beal was the passenger in a car driven by co-defendant James Statzer, 51, when both men were arrested Saturday in Hayfork, Calif., authorities said.

Statzer also pleaded not guilty Tuesday. They were ordered back before a judge Jan. 24.

“I think it’s a strong case,” Trinity County Deputy District Attorney Colleen Murray told The News Tuesday.

“The amount — 22 pounds — is way more than a ‘personal use’ amount. It’s very clear they were transporting out of state. They rented their car in Minnesota and said they were headed back to Minnesota to return it,” Murray said.

She said the haul likely cost about $17,600 in California but was worth four times that amount in a state like New York.

A Smelly Traffic Stop

A spokeswoman for the Trinity County Sheriff said Monday that Beal and Statzer were pulled over when a deputy allegedly saw their vehicle swerving and driving some 15 to 20 miles under the posted speed limit.

“It was a traffic stop where the K9 alerted to the odor of narcotics,” spokeswoman Jill Lynn said.

Beal was charged with misdemeanour possession of cannabis for sale and felony attempt to transport marijuana across state lines.

New York Medical Marijuana Activist – Repeat Offence

Medical Marijuana activist Dana beal and friends at a March in 1967
Fred with Chino (Carlos) Garcia, poet Robert Boardman Vaughn and Dana Beal in Tompkins Square Park, New York, 1967 March. via Fred Good

A year ago this week, both Beal and Statzer were arrested together in Oregon. A state trooper stopped them while driving over the speed limit. After a search was done, state trooper allegedly found 55 pounds of marijuana in their vehicle.

The Clackamas County District Attorney ultimately declined to prosecute the case in June.  There were too many problems with the way the search unfolded, a prosecution memo obtained by The News said.

“Reasonable suspicion did not exist until Statzer had been told to get out of the vehicle and until both parties had been questioned on topics not related to the traffic stop,” the memo said.

Beal was previously convicted of transporting large quantities of marijuana in vans pulled over in Nebraska in 2009 and Wisconsin in 2011. Authorities found more than a hundred pounds of pot in each van.

One of Beal’s New York-based friends said an effort was underway Tuesday to raise money for his bail and legal fees.

“Right now, it’s all about getting him out of jail as soon as possible,” the friend, Aton Edwards, said.

Edwards said that after Beal’s release from federal custody in 2014, the West Village folk figure began raising funds for a clinic in Tibet that uses Ibogaine, a derivative of a West African plant, to treat opioid addiction.

“He’s selfless. He still wears boots he’s had for 40 years. He’s a monk, he just doesn’t have a robe,” Edwards, 56, told The News.