Time in the Joint For Selling Weed

Copyright 1993 Newsday, Inc.

January 8, 1993, Friday, CITY EDITION

Other Edition: Nassau and Suffolk Pg. 55

LENGTH: 915 words


HEADLINE: Time in the Joint For Selling Weed

BYLINE: Jim Dwyer

BODY: “Listen,” says Dana Beal. “That newspaper article that said I was carrying a pound of marijuana?”


“It’s wrong. I was carrying two pounds of marijuana.”

Let the record stand corrected.

On Monday, Dana Beal is to be sentenced in the Queens courthouse to 60 days in jail for possessing two, not one, pounds of pot at LaGuardia Airport. Beal says he was bringing the pot to Boston as a favor to a man who has AIDS and needed the grass to make him feel better and possibly live longer.

Carrying pot is a crime spelled out in the New York State criminal codes. But letting sick people suffer, needlessly, ought to be in there somewhere, too – if not in the letter of the law, at least in the brains of the prosecutors and judges who are assigned to carry it out.

Just last week, the Arkansas doctor nominated by Bill Clinton as U.S. surgeon general said that marijuana ought to be available as medicine.

If doctors feel it “would be beneficial for use by the patient, it should be available,” said Dr. Joycelyn Elders, who is now the director of the Arkansas Health Department.

“I feel if you have people with terminal illnesses or something of that sort, and this makes their lives better and their doctors feel it would benefit them, I would have no problem with it,” said Elders.

If Elders is successful, Dana Beal might be the last person in the country to go to jail for delivering pot to people fighting AIDS or cancer.

At the moment, though, marijuana is dealt with more as the symbol of a lost age than as a possible balm. The federal code specifically forbids its use as a drug, which means that someone took the trouble to outlaw it.

A couple of decades ago, pot was everywhere, and used by people such as Dana Beal, former Yippie, former psychedelic drug advocate, permanent political pest.

He was arrested at LaGuardia on the day the ground war started in the Persian Gulf because, he believes, he is on a list of radicals who must be watched at moments of national emergency.

In any event, he claims he was bringing the marijuana to Boston at the request of a nurse in the veteran’s hospital. At the time, there was a pot drought – all that was available in Boston was moldy, grim stuff. The nurse’s brother and a group of his friends were living with AIDS. One of the ways that AIDS weakens people is that they literally waste away – not eating because they live in a cloud of nausea. Marijuana is known to ease the queasiness.

Now, until earlier this year, the federal government had a policy of allowing “compassionate exceptions” to its rules forbidding medicinal use of pot. This was expected to serve people sick from cancer chemotherapy, and others afflicted by glaucoma. Only 13 people in the country were permitted to receive pot under this program before the government shut it down. The reason? According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, a group of AIDS activists had figured out how to cut the time needed to fill out the application from 50 hours to something like 50 minutes.

As a result, the government was bombarded with sick AIDS patients applying to use the marijuana.

The bureaucracy healed itself immediately by closing the loophole in the law. No one beyond the original 13 would be allowed to use marijuana to treat their illnesses. The Public Health Service worried that it would send the “wrong signal” to the public about the safety of marijuana – it contains carcinogens and a lot of junk that can’t be good for people with weak immune systems. Not only that, said the feds, they might be encouraging abuse.

The decision reeked of bad politics – and probably bad medicine, too.

A survey of the 1,085 members of the American Society of Clinical Oncology – cancer doctors – “found that 48 percent of those responding would prescribe marijuana to some patients if it were legal, and 44 percent said they had recommended its illegal use to control [nausea] in at least one cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy,” reported Paul Cotton in the May 20, 1992, Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dana Beal has been arrested before on pot charges – no coincidence. “If you have AIDS, and you need marijuana, who else are you going to turn to?” he asks.

Beal, by the way, has been successful in having the Food and Drug Administration “fast-track” ibogaine, a drug some AIDS activists argue can cure addictions. He did this by being a pest. This is a character trait that has not served him well in his Queens pot case. “When he was first arrested, we wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, so we offered him a plea with a sentence of probation,” says Ken Holder, chief of the narcotics bureau. “He turned it down flat and said he wanted to go to trial and make a stand on this. Then Beal decided he wanted a plea bargain. By then, the case was 656 days old.”

The DA’s office offered 60 days in Rikers. Beal agreed to it – but then argued he had been such a good guy in the fight against AIDS that he deserved a community-service sentence. The judge said OK. The DA’s office said that wasn’t the deal.

Which brings us to the present – when pot is likely to become legal for the very sick people, and when Beal is likely to be locked up for helping them ahead of time.

We didn’t build jails in this town for people who are being very useful pests in a time of plague.

QUOTE: It feels good, very good. I love giving up my job.’ – Cab driver Michael Lipp, winner of $ 10-million Lotto jackpot

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