For 16 years, Les Stark has been an activist advocating the legalization of marijuana use.

But, until very recently, the scope of the conversation was limited to hypothetical legislation and idealistic proposals.

Then, in April of this year, a Democratic state senator from the Philadelphia area introduced Senate Bill 528, which would legalize the use, purchase and possession of marijuana for people over 21.

Selling marijuana to people under 21 and driving under the influence of marijuana would remain illegal.

If passed, the Regulate Marijuana Act would establish a marijuana sales tax and give regulatory control to the Liquor Control Board.

"For the first time in our lifetimes, there's been legislation introduced to create a legal, regulated, taxed market for cannabis," Stark said. "Now that we have this real proposal that's on the table, we think that now's the time that Pennsylvania should start to take this issue seriously."

This weekend, Stark and other like-minded people will gather in York to show support for state Sen. Daylin Leach's idea.

Dubbed the York Hemp Freedom Rally, the event is scheduled for 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday on Continental Square.

The rally will feature several speakers, including a former Baltimore City prosecutor, a former mayor of Mountville, Pa., and a representative of Philadelphia's chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).


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No open use: Manuel Gomez, a Libertarian candidate for the York City Council, will also speak.

Stark said he does not want supporters to show up expecting open use of marijuana.

"The event is not for civil disobedience," he said.

Stark, a full-time activist, is also the author of a book about Pennsylvania's agricultural and industrial hemp heritage.

"For years we talked about

legalization in vague, hypothetical terms. But now we have something to work with," Stark said. "What we're trying to do is show support for that legislation, for change in general, but specifically for that legislation."

Prohibition of the cannabis plant also outlawed the growth of hemp, an industrial product once used extensively in York and Lancaster counties to produce everything from rope to napkins to curtains, Stark said.

Stark said he would prefer a "free-market solution," but he considers Leach's proposal a good start.

Thousands of people are imprisoned each year because of marijuana-related charges, Stark said.

"The main principle is that we don't believe that anybody should ever go to jail ever again for marijuana," he said. "We believe that a legal, taxed and regulated system of cannabis distribution will always be better than an illegal, chaotic, underground, unregulated market controlled in many cases by street thugs, criminal gangs and large drug cartels."