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Yippie Activist Dana Beal Arrested in Wisconsin Pot Bust

Yippie Activist Dana Beal Arrested in Wisconsin Pot Bust
Todd Finkelmeyer

Irvin Dana Beal, a blast from Madison's counter-culture past, is sitting in the Iowa County jail because police say the car he was riding in on Jan. 6 was pulled over with more than 180 pounds of marijuana in it.

And although few details are available, the Barneveld police chief is hinting that those involved could be linked to a national drug operation.

The Barneveld Police Department announced last week that the large pot stash was found after officer Nick Zimpel stopped a car driven by Lance H. Ramer, 48, of Omaha, Neb. His passenger was Irvin D. Beal, 64, of New York.

Beal, who is better known by his middle name, Dana, started visiting Madison more than four decades ago as a leader of the Youth International Party — a younger spin-off of the anti-war movements of the 1960s — whose members are commonly called Yippies.

The longtime pot activist continues to organize the annual Global Marijuana March each May — offshoots of which are held in Madison and hundreds of cities around the world — and also runs Cures Not Wars, which the group's website states is "a coalition of drug-reform activists, users, health-care and drug-treatment providers and social-justice activists committed to advocacy and non-violent direct action to stop the drug war, whether in small, local protests or in regional or national actions."

Last week, the Barneveld officer who pulled over the car Beal was in requested assistance from the Iowa County Sheriff Department's K-9 Deputy Dan Gentz and his dog Ava. The stop resulted in the marijuana seizure, which authorities report has a street value of more than $750,000.

Beal and Ramer were taken into custody and are being held at the Iowa County Jail in Dodgeville on a $50,000 cash bond. Attempts to reach Beal for comment Thursday were not successful.

Few details of this incident are known because authorities won't release the police report and Beal hasn't been formally charged. Barneveld Police Chief Brian Schneider says that's because federal officials fear that if information in that report is made public, it could compromise an investigation into a national drug ring, the scope of which runs "from California to New York, with multiple locations."

"The U.S. District Attorney's Office is making the determination on the direction they need to go with this," says Schneider. "And the DEA (federal Drug Enforcement Administration) needs to look at some more locations and take care of some business before we release the information."

And Schneider suggests there's more to the story than even the 186-pound find of marijuana.

"The problem, and I know this is all a bit convoluted and confusing, is due to the fact of what was found in the vehicle besides the marijuana," he says.

Published reports note Beal still is facing charges in Nebraska from a 2009 arrest outside of Omaha when authorities say he was found with 150 pounds of marijuana. In 2008, he was arrested in Mattoon, Ill., on charges of having a small amount of pot and $150,000 in cash, for which he faced money laundering charges. Beal pleaded guilty to the marijuana charge and paid a fine, but did not get his stash of cash back.

According to a 2008 New York Times article, Beal joined the Youth International Party not long after it was formed in the late 1960s.

And although Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin were widely recognized as Yippie leaders during the tension-filled days of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, Beal grew to become one of the organization's most visible leaders in the years that followed.

In July 1971, Beal — who at the time was known as Paul Yippie — was arrested by Madison police for hitchhiking on Interstate-94.

"I should have taken the bus," he told The Capital Times a week later. "But it was such a beautiful day — I let my guard down."

He was held in Madison on charges of possessing marijuana (police said they found 97 bags of pot in his luggage) and two counts of selling hashish. Beal also was held under federal detainer on a charge from three years earlier for possessing LSD with intent to sell in his home state of New York. Beal admitted to reporters he had been an "underground" Madison resident for about two years.

A July 30, 1971 article in The Capital Times noted that prominent civil rights attorney William Kunstler — the famed defender of the "Chicago Conspiracy 7" — was flown into town to defend Beal. Kunstler told reporters that laws against marijuana are "being used in every state to curb social movements" and said Beal was a "cultural prisoner of the pot laws."

Kunstler told reporters his presence as Beal's counsel came at the request of revolutionary colleagues Hoffman and Rubin.

In December 1971, Beal received a one-year term in the Dane County Jail as a result of the possession of marijuana charge. The sentence was made retroactive to his arrest in July of that year.

In April 1972, Beal pleaded guilty to two counts of selling LSD from the charges filed in New York, and U.S. District Judge James E. Doyle — the father of former Gov. Jim Doyle — sentenced Beal to 50 days in jail. Beal served the term in the Rock County Jail in Janesville because the federal allotment of prisoners in the Dane County Jail was filled.

The Capital Times reported that Beal was back in town in April 1973 "promoting a July 4 Smoke-In and Impeach Richard Nixon Day scheduled for Washington, D.C." Beal told The Capital Times: "We're not just asking to impeach Nixon, we're asking that all POW's — prisoners of weed — be set free."

Yippies organized these marijuana "smoke-ins" across North America through the 1970s and into the 1980s.

Although Beal tended to fade from the local headlines in the years to follow, a brief item in The Capital Times in May 1979 noted that "Irvin Dana Beal, a widely-known leader in the so-called Yippie circles, has been named in a Nebraska grand jury indictment with operating a multi-million dollar intercontinental marijuana business. Beal, who has made several trips to Madison, faces charges with 23 others of importing and distributing large quantities of hashish, marijuana and ‘Thai' sticks, a form of marijuana."

Local marijuana activist Ben Masel in a short interview Thursday told The Capital Times that Beal currently spends a good deal of time researching ibogaine, a derivative of an African shrub that some believe can be used to counter severe drug addictions.

Masel says he hasn't seen Beal often in recent years, but adds that he was back in town "a few years ago" to take part in a pro-pot rally.