When Johnstown residents Kevin Bailey Sr. and Ryan Ressler formed a pro-marijuana group on Facebook late last year, the duo was just trying to connect with other like-minded people. Fast forward nearly a year, and the group is more than 6,000 people strong and growing.
“It quickly grew into an advocacy type thing,” Bailey said. “It just blew up from there.”
Now the group, called Keystoners, is working to not only make a positive impact in the area, but also change the negative perception that often accompanies the use of marijuana.
On Saturday, the Keystoners will hold a community cleanup event in downtown Johnstown.
The cleanup will begin at 9:30 a.m. in Central Park, with plans to spruce up the Prospect section of the city throughout the morning.
“We’re trying to change the lazy pot head stigma,” Bailey said. “That’s why we get together once a month and try to clean up the community as well.”
Bailey and Ressler said their statewide group is about much more than sitting around smoking pot.
“It’s a group where people can come and ask questions about marijuana as well as share each others experiences,” Bailey said. “We all learn off of each other.”
Ressler said that several of the group’s members have also attended many of Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s county-by-county listening sessions, regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana.
“There were members from Keystoners going to as many of those as we could,” Ressler said.
“We even had someone from our group speak at almost all of them.
“We’re trying to make a change,” he said. “Especially with it being medical right now. A lot of these people need this to survive, so it’s like a way of life for them.”
The Keystoners founders said they are optimistic for the passing of recreational marijuana use across the commonwealth, and believe great strides have already been made with the state’s approval of medical marijuana use.
“Personally, I think the state is moving towards legalization,” Bailey said. “I think they see the seriousness of it and how much it’s needed right now. I’m happy about it to be honest.”
The pro-pot group is now planning to hold cleanups throughout the city each month.
In September, the Keystoners held their first cleanup in the city’s west end section, gathering about 20 to 30 people for the cause.
The group has also received support and sponsorship from local organizations and businesses such as Beyond/Hello, which recently became the first medical marijuana dispensary to open in Johnstown.
“It’s actually very awesome,” Bailey said. “I did not expect any of this to happen the way it’s happening, but it’s going in a very good direction.”