by Andrew K. Arnett

It’s the Fourth of July and I’m having lunch at an Indian restaurant in midtown Manhattan with Dana Beal. I can’t think of a better person to break (nan) bread with, on this auspicious occasion, than Dana, so-called “grandfather” of the cannabis legalization movement.

Dana Beal, 68, embodies all the ideals of freedom, independence and sacrifice which this holiday celebrates. His history of activism spans over 50 years.

In 1963, at the age of 16, he organized his first demonstration of 2000 people in Lansing , Michigan, in protest of the blowing up of a black girls church in Birmingham by the Ku Klux Klan.

A few years later, he organized the first Washington D.C. marijuana Smoke-In, which today is celebrating its 45th anniversary.

Dana has gone on to many other auspicious accomplishments including the founding of the Global Marijuana March. But his road has been a rocky one. He’s paid the price for his civil disobedience with multiple arrests on pot related charges.

This hasn’t stopped Dana, nor even slowed him down. Twice a week he heads a protest outside the Manhattan district attorney’s office in Lower Manhattan, calling on DA Cyrus Vance to stop prosecuting sick patients arrested with pot.

Dana’s main focus today, however, is establishing a heroin treatment clinic in Afghanistan using ibogaine, through the Ibogaine for Afghanistan Benefit. Proponents of ibogaine claim that this drug can cure heroin addiction with one dose.

“Ibogaine has been found,” Dana tells me, “to switch on a growth factor, GDNF, that not only regenerates dopamine neurons suppressed by substance abuse, but also back-signals to cell nuclei to express more and more GDNF so addicts can stay clean without needing more ibogaine.”

As a result of ibogaine treatment, symptoms of narcotics withdrawal should disappear, as well as the cravings associated with heroin.

Shahi, Dana Beal, Andrew and Sophie (2020). Photo by Andrew Arnett

“What exactly is ibogaine?” I ask.

“Ibogaine,” he says, “is a medicinal extract from the inner root bark of the Tabernanthe Iboga plant which grows in West Africa. It is used by the people there for healing and as a ritual entheogen.”

“Why Afghanistan? Why not establish a clinic right here in New York?”

“For one thing,” he tells me, “the heroin epidemic in Afghanistan has metastasized. There are upwards to 16 million heroin users there. That’s over 5 percent of the population. Also, it’s to show how easy it is when you have a government willing to work with you.”

“Could you pass the chicken Vindaloo please?” I said. “This is pretty good stuff.”

“Yeah, Curry in a Hurry. This is my favorite Indian restaurant in town.”

“Ibogaine is the Holy Grail,” Dana continued. “The cure for heroin. The thing that they were looking for when they were cruising around South America, in the Yage Letters. Why were they in South America? It wasn’t just to get high. No, they were looking for something that would be better than apomorphine. Burroughs said, in the introduction to Naked Lunch, ‘I’m sure things 50 times as effective as apomorphine can be discovered.’ And that is ibogaine.”

Like heroin and marijuana, ibogaine is classified as a Schedule I narcotic in the U.S. and like marijuana, it has no accepted medical use for treatment in this country. Certainly, another fallacy of the doomed War on Drugs.

I asked Dana what he thought about this broad lumping together of pot and heroin into the same group.

“Heroin takes away everything,” he says. “People should just smoke pot. If they would just stick to smoking pot, they would be fine. Ultimately, the War on Drugs is really just a war on pot.”

“How so?” I ask.

“To begin with, marijuana feeds the prison-industrial complex. America has the highest incarceration rate in the world with over two million people in jail. 700 thousand of those are for marijuana arrests. That’s almost a third of all those in jail. In addition, we pump over $50 billion a year into fighting this War on Drugs.”

“Certainly,” I say, “you must be pleased by the great strides the cannabis movement has made in recent years?”

“We are just in the foothills,” Dana tells me.

“There is a long way to go yet,” I say.

“Yes, my friend. But I have been to the mountain top. And at the top of the mountain, on the sunny side, there is marijuana.”

After lunch we headed over to the Lower East Side to the Vape Shop where an Ibogaine for Afghanistan Benefit fund raiser was being held.

The shop was already filled with people when we arrived. We headed to the patio in the back.

“Here, talk to this guy,” Dana said to me, motioning to a gentleman by the name of Paul Frank. Then Dana walked off, disappearing into the vape shop, leaving me with Paul.

“I took acid when it was legal,” Paul told me, “I took a lot of acid.”

“Back in the sixties,” I commented.

“Before 68,” he said “68 was when they banned it. I took my last LSD trip in 69. During that trip, I felt 95% myself, and I realized that LSD is completely random.”

“Random,” I said. “Like gambling. That reminds me of what Jim Morrison once said. He said that drugs were a bet with the mind. I can’t imagine a drug that is more like that than LSD.”

I picked through the offerings on the buffet table. There was a robust assortment of cold cuts, cheeses, cut vegetables and loathes of bread.

A musician strummed on a guitar in the garden patio, singing a song by Bad Company.

“I feel like making love . . . “ crooned the singer.

I cut a slice of multi grain, a portion of brie, and grabbed an olive.

“LSD is random,” Paul continued “in that its effects could enhance, degrade or, afterwards, you remain the same. And, there’s no way to predict which way it will go. After I had that realization, I quit LSD for good. ”

Well,” I added “you can’t win against the house. Ultimately.”

“I quit while I was ahead,” he replied.

At that point, the singer was done strumming his songs. He left the stage and Dana Beal took the podium.

Dana Beal (2015). Photo by Andrew Arnett

“Thank you all for coming,” Dana said. “We are, at this point, two thousand dollars away from realizing the first phase of Ibogaine for Afghanistan . . .”

“Abbie Hoffman was a complete asshole,” Paul said to me.

“Well, yeah that whole hippie trip,” I said, “was a big brain washing to marginalize the anti war movement. The majority of middle Americans were already against the Vietnam War.”

“You’re being too naive,” Paul said. “The Pentagon is a black magic symbol. At the demonstration, we circled the Pentagon. We were going to make it levitate. But Abbie Hoffman spoke to the officials at the Pentagon before the demonstration, and the officials told him that there was no way they were going to allow the main entrance of the Pentagon to be blocked by protest. It was for security reasons. Abbie knew all this, but he went ahead with the demonstration anyway.”

“Hoffman was a hell of a P.R. man,” I said.

“I saw a guy get cracked across the face by a rifle butt. His skull was split wide open. Abbie was an asshole.”

A new performer took the small stage. He started singing a song by The Moody Blues. Dana Beal walked through a vape cloud and joined us.

“Hey Dana,” Paul said, “We’re talking about the hippies.”

“I was drawn to the hippy phenomenon,” Dana said. “I basically left Michigan and came to New York City instead of coming to San Francisco. Everything comes from that. Some writers have claimed that I was not a Yippie but rather, a Zippie. But the minute the protests were over in 1972 we went back to ‘Yippie’ because we didn’t really like the Zippie thing. The Zippie thing was too hedonistic, it wasn’t really authentic either. It was too much ‘you got a right to party,’ which is good. We were for people being able to party. We’re not for people committing suicide with heroin though. It’s like sex. Sex can be fun and sex can be safe.”

“What do they have to eat?” Dana asked.

“They have a nice spread,” I said, “an assortment of meats and cheeses and some wine.”

“I’m going to take a look. I’m hungry again.”

Dana wandered off to the buffet table. A burly bearded man walked up to me, told me his name was Kingsly.

“I was in jail for ten years on marijuana charges,” he tells me. “We’re going up to Albany in November to change things, so that doesn’t happen to people anymore.”

“Really,” I said “Tell me more.”

This story was originally published by Andrew Arnett in 2016 @ Drugs Are Boring