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Free Mary Jane Festival promotes U.S. growing of hemp

While light rain fell, Josh Neal stood in a small grove surrounded by tents, juggled three balls and talked of the ultimate grassroots effort.

hemp leaf logo fuel food fiberNeal, 28, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was in Jackson Township on Saturday for the first Free Mary Jane Festival — a two-day event that features over 20 bands and promotes the legalization of U.S. hemp production and medical marijuana use.

The event, held at Elicker’s Grove — adjacent to the Jackson Township municipal building — where church picnics and family gatherings are typically held, also includes a glass blower, tattoo artist and magician.

Penn Township resident Adam David Jones, 28, who teaches acting in Westminster, Md., co-organized the event.

He said the festival’s aim, to a degree, was misinterpreted.

The event does not advocate recreational marijuana, he said.

Sure, the festival’s name, Mary Jane — for anybody not into girlie shoes — implies marijuana, Jones agreed.

And yes, many people at the event believe marijuana for medical purposes should be legalized, he said.

“But . . . it’s not a marijuana festival . . . It’s not about getting high,” Jones said and added that event organizers chose the festival name to generate publicity. “It’s a hemp festival.”

So, what’s the difference?

“Hemp . . . you can’t smoke it,” he said and added that industrial — or non-drug-use — hemp, used to make products including food, clothing and textiles, is a legal and common U.S. import. “The focus is hemp, but we support . . . looking at any law that doesn’t make sense.”

Others agreed.

“This isn’t to raise hell and get noticed,” said Jones’ mom, Kathy Strasbaugh of New Oxford. Unlike various rallies that took place in the 1960s when she was a kid, this weekend’s festival promotes education on hemp as a viable U.S. crop, she said.

Les Stark, a Lancaster County resident and author of Hempstone Heritage I, was a guest speaker at the event. He talked of the area’s history of growing hemp.

“Put the hemp back in Hempfield, Pennsylvania,” he said.

Jesse Sullivan, 30, of Mount Joy, Lancaster County, helped with security at the festival.

Sullivan, a self-described stay-at-home dad and kids’ lacrosse coach, said he advocates the legalization of marijuana for medical use.

He said he worked as a York County Prison corrections officer from about 2004 to 2008.

Many of the inmates had been arrested for possession of marijuana they used to medicate illnesses such as AIDS, he said.

“If it was legalized, you wouldn’t have that,” Sullivan said. Additionally, the state and U.S. economy would benefit from growing non-drug use hemp at home, he said.

“We need to stop being reliant on other countries,” he said.


The Free Mary Jane Festival ends 8 p.m. Sunday at Elicker’s Grove, 511 Roth’s Church Road in Jackson Township.

The event, which promotes the legalization of U.S.-produced hemp, includes several live bands and foods including hemp hotdogs, hemp cole slaw and pancakes made from hemp flour.

A $15 donation is suggested for admission.

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