Marijuana activist since 1960s facing California pot charges

AP News
Posted: Dec 20, 2017 8:49 PM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A marijuana activist whose advocacy dates to the 1960s counterculture has been arrested in California toting 22 pounds of illegal marijuana, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Irvin Dana Beal, 70, of New York, was arrested Saturday in far Northern California after prosecutors said his rental car was spotted weaving across the road and driving 20 miles below the speed limit. James Statzer, 51, of Michigan, also was arrested.

The arrest occurred along a well-traveled highway in California's famed Emerald Triangle area, known for its high-grade pot. A police dog smelled marijuana during the stop and 22 pounds of the drug was found.

Both men pleaded not guilty to charges of possessing drugs for sale and felony transportation charges and were being held in lieu of $75,000 bail.

Beal has been promoting marijuana's medical benefits for decades. His activism dates to the 1960s heyday of Abbie Hoffman and the Youth International Party, known as the Yippies.

Recreational sales of marijuana become legal in California on Jan. 1, and medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 1996. But it's still illegal to transport large quantities of the drug or to take it out of state.

It's not uncommon for traffickers to think they can now transport pot risk-free, said Deputy District Attorney Colleen Murray, who is prosecuting the case.

"People are like, 'It's legal.' So often they're very open with officers, 'Oh hey, I have 100 pounds,'" she said. "That's not the way it works."

Defense attorney Tom Ballanco said it's not clear if his two clients thought they were acting legally.

Friends were raising money for Beal's bail, Ballanco said, concerned that he is a heart attack survivor and has other illnesses. Beal isn't a flight risk and looks forward to fighting the charges, Ballanco said.

"The nature of his life, really, is one of activism. He's not the type of person who's going to flee from this," Ballanco said. "He's certainly a very colorful figure. I'm happy to be representing him and his co-defendant."

For law enforcement, these were routine arrests in an area where traffickers typically tote hundreds if not thousands of pounds of famed Emerald Triangle pot to East Coast states.

"People can buy it here for maybe $800 or $1,000 a pound," Murray said. "Once they get back there ... they're going to get maybe $3,000 to $4,000 a pound for it. That's a nice profit."