Dana Beal to Toke of the Town: “They had to let me go, ’cause I up and died on them”
Exclusive Interview: Dana Beal
Longtime marijuana activist Dana Beal has had a rough year. Back on January 6, he was charged with possessing 169 pounds of marijuana after being pulled over in Dodgeville, Wisconsin for a broken taillight and missing bumper — and he was already facing charges involving 150 pounds the previous year in Nebraska. On September 20, he got a five-year prison sentence for the newer charges.
It seemed a foregone conclusion. Beal — with an ancestor who signed the Declaration of Independence, Beal, a founding member of the Youth International Party (Yippies) along with the legendary Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, Beal, who’d been involved in every major social justice movement since the early 1960s — was going to be spending some time in the Big House. His sentence was a “half and half,” where he’d have to serve the first 2.5 years and be paroled for the second half.
But Dana’s life has never been, and probably never will be, a boring one, from the 1960s to being in his 60s. In 1967 he was charged with trying to sell acid to an undercover cop; he went on the run but eventually ended up serving a year on that rap. In 1972 he founded, then edited, the Yipster Times (later to become Overthrow) which published until 1979. His efforts to promote the use of ibogaine to cure addiction to heroin, cocaine and alcohol through the organization Cures Not Wars have resulted in thousands of people being able to walk away from hard drugs.
Just a week after getting the new five-year sentence, “A strange thing happened to me right when they were taking me to prison,” Beal told Toke of the Town. Dana suffered a heart attack on the morning of September 27.
“They had to let me go, ’cause I up and died on them,” Dana said. “I have zero memory of what happened.
“I think the attack was triggered by a panic which caused shortness of breath, because they never tell you they’re moving you (security),” he told us.
“Suddenly I’m on the floor and one of the same guys who put me in the hole last time is giving me CPR,” Beal said. “They transferred me to the hospital in Dodgeville, which was inadequate, so I ended up waking up in St. Mary’s in Madison, under guard of a sheriff’s deputy. St. Mary’s does hearts.”
So there Dana stayed for about a week, fighting for his life, with a deputy guarding him (as if he was going to get up and walk anywhere).
“After about a week the D.A. and the sheriff let me bail out, ’cause Iowa County couldn’t afford to keep a deputy in Madison,” Beal told us. “A few days later, I’m doing a double bypass. After a week they kicked me out.”
Dana Beal, left, and famed civil liberties attorney William Kunstler in the 1970s
Dana had already tried to warn the judge about his bad health — “Both my dad and my mother’s dad died of stroke at 65,” Beal said; “I’m 64” — but to no avail, at least until he convincingly proved his point by almost dying.
“So instead of going to prison for 20 more months, it all became probation,” Dana said. “I’m still facing Nebraska charges, and there’s no guarantee they’re giving me credit for the nine months I spent on hold in Wisconsin on their charges.
“They gave a co-defendant 17 months and he didn’t even exercise his right to put on a medical necessity defense,” Beal said. “I may have to do the same sentencing hearing all over again, with somewhat different witnesses.”
Almost dying of a heart attack has a way of getting a guy to thinking, and Dana Beal is no exception.
“Question is, was I due for a heart attack anyway? Was I in the only place I would have gotten CPR, so the bust was a blessing in disguise? I know I’ve been preserved like Lazarus, for a purpose,” Beal told Toke of the Town. “I sure could use the money back, though.”
Dana’s lawyers are Bryon Walker and Glen Shapiro. Former Yippie Pie-man Aron Kay is coordinating donations to Dana, and can be reached at (347) 962-5024.
“Also, be sure and watch the video of my sentencing statement,” Beal said. “I did a really good job except for two points the judge brings up when he sentences me: re-offending while out on bail and the amount.
“It wasn’t such a huge amount when you break it up between 20,000 registered patients in Michigan, plus patients back in New York and D.C,” Dana said. “Patients are paying $10, $15 and $20 a gram, and many can’t afford it because they’re on SSI, or they already pay thousands of dollars for meds each month.
“Our pot RETAILS for $4, $5 and $6 — a quality generic product for poor people,” Beal said. “Do the math. The pot busted would have saved patients $800,000.
“There’s never enough good, cheap, medical-grade cannabis,” Dana pointed out. “So it wasn’t a huge amount; about 169 pounds compared with 150 pounds in Wahoo, Nebraska, where I’m still facing charges and maybe another year in the can — charges I thought had been dropped as a result of a bad search!”
At his sentencing in Dodgeville, Iowa, on September 20, Beal’s sentencing testimony ran more than 36 minutes, putting on the record his work, ideals, thoughts, some history and particularly his dedication to getting people off hard drugs. To watch and hear his testimony, see the video below.