Like Legal Weed? You Should Thank Dana Beal

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Meet the 77-year-old cannabis cowboy who helped make legalization possible

Today, seven in 10 Americans agree that cannabis should not be criminalized. There are countless activists to thank for breaking the stigma including growers, sellers and researchers. But few have fought as hard or as long for legalization as Irvin Dana Beal.

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Dana Beal photographed working at Work’N’Roll in Manhattan / Calvin Stovall for ONE37pm

Beal is 77, with a philosopher’s mustache and the vibe of that rogue professor who saved the day in your favorite sci-fi film. His trademark cowboy boots are prone to come off once he’s comfortable. But even after five decades fighting to normalize cannabis—and with more than half of U.S. states now allowing some form of medical or recreational use—Beal is far from satisfied.

He’s still front and center at protests against local politicians who suppress drug reform, sometimes offering free weed to anyone who joins his brigade. In January, Beal was arrested in Idaho while providing medical marijuana to low-income medical patients. He was bailed out in March, but is now fighting serious charges and health issues related to his rough stretch behind bars. So far, Beal’s defense fund has raised more than $11,000 through a GoFundMe page run by his daughter, Aivia Monitto. Their goal is $75,000.

Monitto wrote on the GoFundMe: “Given Dana’s age, poor health and serious heart condition, any jail facility, let alone extended prison stay, would threaten his life. Dana Beal, my father, urgently needs financial support during this tumultuous time.”

Beal started the Global Cannabis March movement in New York City in the 1970s (now in over 400 cities worldwide) and last year, NYC Mayor Eric Adams awarded Dana and the Yippies a certificate of recognition for their decades of advocacy.

Before his arrest, Beal was traveling overseas to secure Ibogaine, a natural derivative from a shrub that grows in the African Rainforest. Ibogaine is known for its potential to treat drug addiction, PTSD, Parkinson's Disease, and depression. Beal believes Ibogaine and cannabis can help solve America’s opioid epidemic, and has dedicated much of the past decade to raising awareness and access to both. Beal’s latest venture, IboGrow, sources Ibogaine from a processing facility in Ghana run by fellow activist Dhoruba Bin-Wahad.

While incarcerated in Idaho, Beal told Forbes: “I want them to know that if they keep me here, it is highly probable that I will legalize pot (in Idaho).” He added, “Right now, they’re legalizing [cannabis] on the federal level, and all the states are gonna fall. And if you pair it with ibogaine, it’ll definitely pass.” 

Dana Beal (right) and Jack Herer at the 1989 Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Fest in Madison, Wisconsin / D. Paul Stanford

Beal’s betting his retirement savings, and his golden years, that Ibogaine will revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry. And he’s calling out anyone who’s blocking or stalling his mission. “Ukraine is willing to use this stuff against the Russians,” he pointed out to Forbes from a jail phone. “Why aren’t you willing to use this stuff to fight crystal meth and fentanyl overdose? Why won’t you study it?”

Back on April 20, 2021, Beal hung out with the New York Times at Union Square Park—reflecting on the impact of his life’s work. Before legal dispensaries like Union Square Travel Agency were open for business, the park was the epicenter of New York City’s underground cannabis scene. Beal and Yippie friends like Jack Herer led protests and smoke sessions at parks across the nation as the Youth International Party through the 70's, 80's and 90's. 

Most people in his boots would see today’s legalization boom as their big payday or pension plan. A chance to kick back and enjoy the unlikely reality of legal weed stores that they fought so hard to make possible. But Beal refuses to focus on a payday when there is still so much progress to be made. After being released in Idaho, he released a video stating his plans to “attack the insane situation in Idaho, where pot is more illegal than fentanyl.”

A few weeks removed from incarceration, we caught up with Beal on a quiet weekday at Work’N’Roll—NYC’s premier cannabis-friendly workspace. He held court, punched out emails and passed spliffs while subtly recruiting new comrades for his missions to mainstream cannabis and ibogaine. After his work is done, Beal kicks off his cowboy boots and takes a quick nap right under the spring sun. If any stoner among us deserves a midday nap, it’s Irvin Dana Beal.

Next time you order from your favorite legal pot shop, show some love to Beal’s legal fund as a thank you for his lifetime of work. Odds are, you wouldn’t be enjoying that legal zaza without him.

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