Wilkes-Barre Council Members Plan Push to Decriminalize Pot

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WILKES-BARRE -- Wilkes-Barre now has a new city council chairperson and vice chairperson. They were sworn in Tuesday night at City Hall.

On the top of their agenda is a big change that could impact how marijuana possession is prosecuted in the Luzerne County court system.

Wilkes-Barre's new council chairperson Beth Gilbert is now in her second year on city council. She wants to start this year on a high note by decriminalizing marijuana. In other words, no jail time if someone is found with a small amount of marijuana.

Gilbert tells Newswatch 16 she's been working with city administration and the police department for months, trying to come up with an ordinance that would downgrade small amounts of marijuana to a summary offense.

Many people, like Charlie Sokolas, think decriminalizing weed would give police more time to go after harder drug dealers.

"I was arrested for a possession charge a while ago," said Sokolas. "There's more crime in heroin and that other stuff. Catch them!"

But the Luzerne County district attorney's office points out Wilkes-Barre City Council has a big legal hurdle if it wants to decriminalize marijuana.

"It is illegal to possess, to use marijuana by state law, so I don't know how they have the authority to do that," explained Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis.

Still, other legal experts point out decriminalizing marijuana could be hashed out in the courts.

"I can see if the city really tries to push that and take a more progressive approach, you may see some litigation," said attorney Jonathan Comitz.

Gilbert is still working on writing the ordinance. It could mirror that of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, where people just receive fines for possessing or smoking small amounts of marijuana.

"I actually think that's a better idea because all the jails are packed," said Robin Cool of Wilkes-Barre.

"I think there should be regulations and stipulations, but I believe decriminalization is no big thing. It's a long time coming," said John Klotz of Wilkes-Barre.

Wilkes-Barre's council vice chairperson was also sworn in Tuesday night. Tony Brooks also supports some kind of decriminalization of marijuana.


  • Len Lombardo

    They (Wilkes Barre) cannot make a law less strict then a state law. It is only possible to make a stricter law. They need to do their homework before making ridiculous claims.



  • Steve Mosher (@sinsibility)

    I don’t want anybody to be uncomfortable about it or feel threatened in any way, but I am going to grow my own pot and vaporize it, make medicated edibles and medicinal tinctures, for my own medicinal and recreational uses.
    I will not be driving around that way,and will never show up for work like that, but you do not police my private life.
    I simply prefer marijuana to alcohol, and that doesn’t make me a bad person.

  • Unbiased

    The answers to the survey are very loaded. Marijuana should be decriminalized because it does little or no harm in most cases. Not because jails are over crowded. Try being unbiased.

  • KW

    I no longer reside in this area and I will be honest, I haven’t even taken the time to read this article. Mostly because I expect nothing of educational value regarding the benefit of the decriminalization of this drug in that area. I grew up in the greater Hazleton area and recently moved back for a short stint of time. I currently reside in Philadelphia Pa, where marijuana is currently decriminalized! I understand what I am about to say is considered ones opinion but it is a strong one with a lot of research due to ones own personal interests. (if you are interested in human rights/civil rights and especially in regards to the “war on drugs” read: “The New Jim Crow” its written by Michelle Alexander and full of great information) To put as simply and watered down as possible the strongest reason as to why I am for the decriminalization in this area specifically is because of the amount of youths in that area who will receive charges for experimenting with a drug that I find and the majority of scientists as well as health officials find less dangerous than alcohol (a market that is booming in those small coal mining towns / my childhood best friend had an emergency liver transplant at the age of 25 due to being an alcoholic (this person still resides in this area and thankfully are alive and well this day). We raise children wanting the best for them, the best education, the best career, the best house, etc. If we wish for the best why would we allow something as a minor drug charge cripple this sort of future? You slap these charges on people regardless of age and instantly their future is crippled and that dream career/future/whatever is no longer achievable because this charge cannot be expunged. (the majority from this area live below poverty and not everyone can pay to clean their record / not all records can be expunged) You take children from the schools in that area with education systems that are failing them ( I know because I am a product of that area and my freshmen year of college was a slap in the face from reality / but I am still privileged to have the ability to further my education because most do not) and then you ship them right into incarceration for minor drug charges because they can’t afford a lawyer so why go to the trial? (which is a trickle down for further chargers/longer incarceration / a slew of more possible negative side effects) It is unfair and unjust for these people. These people as in your community, this is your brothers and sisters / mothers and fathers. How is anyone supposed to advance in a society that is so dead set of corrupting them on something so small? This isn’t about allowing someone to “have a good time” and get “messed up”. It’s about not crippling someones future or completely erasing it because of your conservative, religious or small minded values. Its about humanity and not allowing someone (your loved one) to become another statistic to the ever expanding prison system.

  • Ken

    Colorado topped 1 Billion in marijuana sales in 2016 generating 175 million in tax revenue. 50 million has gone directly to school construction projects. Quit being a bunch of obstructionist pigs and move PA forward.

    • KW

      I personally think that this sort of response is counter productive to this actual article and has nothing to do with the decriminalization of weed. Weed isn’t an epidemic but your negative and ill thought out arguments seem to be one.

  • Make cocaine legal also

    I agree , make it a summary offense unless the doobie holder has a criminal past for other drugs then by all means no way! Also they must realize that driving stoned is buzzed driving and is against the law!

  • Tiffany

    I really think marijuana should be legalized look who robbed for that who killed for it ?? Right no one lol… who died or overdose??? No one… legalize marijuana please less problems

  • KPF

    First off I would like to say that there are a lot more benefits to marijuana and other hemp plants then smoking it. I know it’s not your fault that you people are uneducated because you where taught that it was “bad” so I’m going to take some time time to point out just a few things that this is good for. It’s used to treat many illnesses and have many beneficiaries to using it by investing it. Helps with epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, nausea, chronic pain and has been known to slow growth in cancer cells. But you rather get get prescription pills with a lot of harmful sides affects and use synthetic heroine to treat pain? Come on now. It also is an awesome alternative to make plastic insted of oil based plastic witch takes forever to decompose as one made from hemp tales around 80 days. These are just two of its uses in everyday society. Please don’t be led to believe that it’s bad. The truth is out there you just have to know where to look.

    • Gram Err

      Tip – When you’re trying to make an educational statement to persuade others, check your spelling and grammar. It ends up having the opposite affect

  • Lloyd Schmucatelli

    Drain the Swamp!!!!

    2-3 years ago these same morons pass an ordinance to shut down landlord’s properties whose tenants deal drugs on them and now they want to legalize drugs!!

    Do these morons know what they’re doing?

    Sure sounds like political double speak to me!

    Now I don’t smoke pot, but I don’t have anything against it either. Pick a side Wilkes-Barre!! Jeez.

    And don’t give me the overplayed line of “oh but it’s just pot”, that’s not the point.

      • Tommy

        I wish wnep would do a story on how ofter people get sentenced to jail time for small amount marijuana. The article misleads us to believe you go to jail for “small amount”.

  • I AM The Antipope

    Although I want marijuana to be legalised, I do not think Wilkes Barre has the autority to do that.
    I also know that marijuana is not totally benign.

  • i quit..

    Sneaky way to collect more money . Dopers are dopers just like drunks are drunks.Question is how these ever so smart will steal the money..


    PA OFFICIALS ARE IDIOTS! And you will have more of this (Thieves Swipe Tools from Church in Carbon County) and that stuff turns people into PEDOS also? PA IS EVIL!

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