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Philly420: Ex-Flyer Riley Cote talks about his Hemp Heals Festival

"Make the most of the Indian hemp seed; sow it everywhere!"

George Washington penned that line in a letter while serving as the first president and living in Philadelphia. For decades, farmers in the Keystone State did just that and there were scores of hemp mills across the Commonwealth.

But since the 1950s, with the expansion of criminal prohibitions on marijuana, somehow its cousin hemp was included into the mix. Now it is literally illegal to grow it here. All of the hemp clothing you see on store shelves today and hemp seeds in the grocery store come from Canada or Europe.

But this Saturday a new exposition for the plant is happening at Penn's Landing's Festival Pier: The Hemp Heals Festival.

Founded by former Philadelphia Flyer Riley Cote and headlined by some big name music acts -- G-Love, Stephen Marley and crowd favorite Slightly Stoopid -- the Hemp Heals show features a vending area for people to experience modern hemp products. (Full disclosure I will be emcee at the event.)

Shawn House will be on hand with his Hempzels. Nutritious, packed with protein and omega-3s, it also doesn't get much more Pennsylvania than a hemp soft pretzel.

Hemp is in the family of cannabis but doesn't produce any euphoric effects. Instead of short plants with big flower buds, hemp grows straight and tall. The stalks are hard like bamboo but not hollow. Instead, hemp stalks are filled with long fibers. It also produces thousands of edible seeds.

For much of the 1700s and 1800s, hemp was literally a required crop. During World War II, it was Pennsylvania that out-produced all other states in hemp production for military use. It was a crucial industrial product used mainly for stout rope.

Hemp could be returning to the fields of York and Lancaster Counties, where two townships - East Hempfield and West Hempfield, are named after it. Activists with the nonprofit Keystone Cannabis Coalition (KCC) have been negotiating with state legislators to introduce an industrial hemp farming bill in Harrisburg next year.

"We expect next year's Pennsylvania hemp bill to gain widespread support and pass easily," said Les Stark founder of the KCC, "We are going to put the Hemp back in Hempfield."

The Hemp Heals event is now in its third year. I caught up with Riley Cote to ask him a few questions about what spurred his involvement and what the future may bring.

What was the inspiration for you to work on a foundation regarding hemp?

Cote: The Hemp Heals Foundation is about much more than just hemp. It's supporting sustainable farming and sustainable health. The cannabis plant represents health in many forms. It is a healing plant, a nontoxic, sustainable industry that could be a safe alternative for virtually all things we do in the current world we live in. As an extremely health-conscious person, I have realized the power and potential of this plant and want nothing more than to educate people on its positive impact it has on not only the human body but all living things, the air we breathe and the ground we walk on. A perfect crop that grows in virtually all climates: Hemp heals!

If Pennsylvania starts farming hemp again, where do you think the greatest benefits would be found? Is it more the organic food market or in clothing, etc.? 

Cote: If and when hemp is grown back here in Pennsylvania, I see huge things.

Hemp seeds are a nutrient-dense powerhouse with anti-inflammatory properties, packed with digestible protein, and all essential amino acids and essential fatty acids. Hemp fibers are the strongest and most durable natural fibers on earth. Hemp clothing is a great alternative to pesticide-ridden cotton fibers. Hemp body and hair-care products are nourishing and moisturizing. Hemp-crete and hemp board can be used to build negative carbon footprint housing while cutting costs by 40 percent. It can produce a clean, renewable biodiesel energy source while also being extracted into high CDB medicines, creams and tinctures. Hemp can help us all reconnect to the natural world while creating jobs and helping boost the economy.

At FarmAid in 2012 in Hershey, some of the presenters talked about hemp. Do you think there's more awareness and support for support for hemp today out in rural PA as opposed to the urban centers like Philly?

Cote:  I really do believe that the human race has become extremely disconnected with the natural world, and while most farmers see the total value in a crop like hemp, most people living in urban areas seem to really not be educated or care much. Hemp prohibition affects us all, whether we think is does or not.

What do you hope people take away after they attend a Hemp Heals show? 

Cote: When people leave Hemp Heals, I hope they become just a little bit inspired and empowered to dig a little deeper, learn a little more, and hopefully see the ultimate power in this plant. Once more people become enlightened, the quicker we will see change.

George Washington just became a hockey fan.

The Hemp Heals Festival runs Saturday, Aug. 2, at LiveNation's Festival Pier. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.. Along with the music, there will be educational displays and speeches from Les Stark, Shawn House, comedian N.A. Poe and more. For additional information, click here

Chris Goldstein smoked his first joint in 1994 and has been working to legalize marijuana ever since. He serves on the Board of Directors at PhillyNORML has been covering cannabis news for over a decade. Contact Goldstein at or on Twitter @freedomisgreen.