WILKES-BARRE — Area residents hoping to see marijuana legalized — either for medical or recreational use — will gather in Kirby Park on Saturday, but organizers say Herb and Mary Jane aren’t invited … at least not this year.
The Keystone Cannabis Coalition and the Northeastern Pennsylvanian Cannabis Network will host the third annual “Wilkes-Barre Cannabis Freedom Rally” from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the park. The organizations will be out in full force with vendors, speakers and entertainment pertaining to the drug.
Event organizers say they are hoping to educate the public on both medical and recreational marijuana and call on Luzerne County and Wilkes-Barre to decriminalize the drug.
“There’s going to be lots of educational materials available,” event organizer Jeff Zick said.
Zick said the event will host “knowledgeable speakers” as well as informational booths, entertainment and vendors. In the past, the event has drawn hundreds.
The difference this year, Les Stark, of the Keystone Cannabis Coalition, said is that Pennsylvania has already passed a medical marijuana bill, and cities such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have already decriminalized the drug, making possession of less than one ounce a summary offense, resulting in a fine.
While legislation involving marijuana has evolved over the past few years, it’s still a “long, hard fight,” Zick said.
“We celebrate how far we’ve come,” Stark said. “But we are not satisfied.”
Stark said he hopes to continue conversations of decriminalization in the city.
“What we want to do is help stir that conversation,” he said.
In May, the Weekender reported residents pushed Luzerne County officials to decriminalize the drug in a similar way bigger cities have. Wilkes-Barre has moved possession of marijuana paraphernalia to a summary offense from a misdemeanor, and Stark believes decriminalizing small amounts of the drug is the next step.
“They don’t have to wait for the state,” Stark said.
The Wilkes-Barre rally is a group effort, Zick said, with multiple pro-cannabis organizations coming together.
“We all team up,” Zick said.
The two organizations hold rallies across the state and work in municipalities to help residents push borough councils to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.
“The call is being heard around Pennsylvania,” Stark said.
While the ultimate goal is for legalization of marijuana, Stark said he wants people to understand the organizations don’t want a “free for all.”
“We promote responsible use,” Stark said.
Along with legalization, Stark said they want to see taxation and regulation similar to what is done in states such as Colorado and Washington that have already legalized recreational use.
“We believe in law and order and public health,” Stark said.
While both groups support the legalization of marijuana, Stark said there will be no use of the drug at Saturday’s event.
Last year, Stark said he predicted medical marijuana would be legalized by the time of the Wilkes-Barre rally this year. He had a similar prediction for next October.
“In about a year, we will have decriminalization,” he said.
Reach Brigid Edmunds at 570-991-6119 or on Twitter @TLNews