Beal pleads guilty, but med defense not up in smoke

Dana Beal at a rally for medical marijuana in New York last year.

BY PAUL DeRIENZO  |  Dana Beal, the patriarch of Village potheads, appeared before Judge Mary Gilibride in Saunders County, Nebraska, this week for a perfunctory bench trial — at which he pleaded guilty to possession of about 150 pounds of pot.

The Yippie activist is a longtime resident of 9 Bleecker St. and the organizer of the annual Million Marijuana March for pot legalization.

It was the second appearance before a judge in a year for Beal.

About a year ago, he was sentenced to five years in jail — with two and a half years of that under probation — after he admitted possessing another 160 pounds of pot in Wisconsin. He has about 18 months still left on that jail term.

But because Beal had been already arrested in 2009 in Nebraska, he faced bail-jumping charges as well as pot charges and was extradited to Saunders County.

Beal will be formally sentenced in Nebraska on Nov. 19. He faces one to 20 years.

In both arrests, Beal was driving low-cost pot cross-country from California, according to him, to supply medical marijuana buyers’ clubs.

Prosecutors are asking for what attorney Glenn Shapiro calls a “heavy-handed” prison sentence. Meanwhile, Shapiro, who is representing Beal in Nebraska, is asking for a sentence of time served, which would send Beal back to Wisconsin to finish his term there.

The Mon., Aug. 27, hearing is termed a “stipulation bench trial,” which was requested by the defense so that Beal can appeal an adverse ruling by Judge Gilibride preventing him from raising the defense that he was transporting medical marijuana to sick people in New York when he was arrested. Shapiro said the real purpose of this past Monday’s trial was to show that Beal is a “good guy who just works on the other side of law enforcement.”

In effect, Beal’s guilty plea was a technicality so that he can, hopefully, launch a medical marijuana defense.

Shapiro said the prosecutor “has it out for Dana.” But he hopes the judge will look at the case for what it is and recognize Dana’s “true mission,” which Shapiro said is to “help those who don’t have funds to buy high-grade marijuana” to treat their medical conditions.

Shapiro is asking Beal’s friends and advocates to mail letters in support of Beal and medical marijuana to his office at: Glenn Shapiro, Attorney at Law, Schaefer and Shapiro, LLP, 1001 Farnam St., Suite 300, Omaha, Nebraska, 68102.

These letters will be used in Beal’s appeal of the denial of his right to raise a medical marijuana defense. In 2000 the Nebraska courts ruled against allowing a medical use defense of pot possession. But lawyers think that public opinion has substantially changed over the past decade and it might be the right time to revisit the courts’ prohibition. A medial marijuana defense does not legalize marijuana, but it does allow a defendant to raise the argument that the pot was being used for a good purpose and not just to get high.

In a recent letter to his judge, Beal complained he was not receiving adequate medical care in jail, including treatment for a hernia. He also complained that he hasn’t been getting the fish oil he said a doctor recommended for his high cholesterol, nor supplies of the supplement melatonin that Beal claims helps his chronic insomnia.

While being held in jail in Wisconsin in 2010, Beal suffered a massive heart attack and had had to undergo bypass surgery; after the surgery, he was allowed to return to New York for three weeks before beginning his formal sentence in Wisconsin. According to Shapiro, the co-defendants in Beal’s case have all been released after serving sentences similar to what Beal has already endured. Plus, Shapiro pointed out, the average sentence of the last 200 people busted for similar amounts of marijuana in Nebraska was about 16 months. Using this formula, Shapiro said, Beal should be freed based on the jail time he’s already served.