Pittsburgh the Latest City to Decriminalize Cannabis


Marijuana law reform is sweeping the nation as more elected officials, policymakers and voters learn about the benefits of moving past outdated prohibitionist policies. Most of the statewide reforms start at the local level, helped along by hard-working activists that have dedicated their lives to ending an unnecessary and harmful war being waged against the nonviolent cannabis community. Pittsburgh NORML is doing great work in the Steel City, effectively leading the effort to decriminalize personal amounts of marijuana within the city.

Changes at the city level immediately benefit not just the local cannabis community, but also all residents as it saves taxpayer dollars and better prioritize law enforcement resources. I got the opportunity to catch up with Pittsburgh NORML’s Theresa and Patrick Nightingale over Facebook and ask them about their efforts in accomplishing this important goal and what is next for statewide reforms in Pennsylvania.

Theresa, what are your initial thoughts on the importance of Pittsburgh’s decriminalization measure?

Adults in Pittsburgh will no longer have to worry about a small amount marijuana charge on their public records. These charges can destroy job and housing opportunities and follow people into the courtroom during custody disputes and divorce proceedings. It is also important to mention that because our Republican House continues to stall our medical marijuana bill that this ordinance will provide protection to medical patients until the time comes when a comprehensive medical marijuana bill can be passed.

Patrick, how did Pittsburgh NORML effectively lobby for this important reform?

In 2012 a neighborhood community development corporation, Bloomfield Garfield Corp., adopted a resolution to call for legalization of cannabis because too many of its constituents were unemployable and being denied public housing because of minor marijuana convictions. The director, an old friend, reached out to me but there just seemed nothing we could do on a local level. In 2014, Philly NORML worked with City Council, the police and the DA to pass their ordinance decriminalizing “small amounts.” Seeing their success and not seeing any legal challenges I decided to approach Bloomfield Garfield Corp to explore the possibility of a decrim ordinance.

Patrick, what’s next for Pittsburgh NORML and other Pennsylvania cannabis law reform advocates?

We are very hopeful that we may be able to move forward with some type of decriminalization effort on the statewide level. We have some very socially conservative politicians in key leadership positions that have effectively stymied our medicinal marijuana bill. If we get a MMJ bill passed it will be a very limited piece of legislation unfortunately. But with the state’s two largest population centers having embraced reform it may help spur Harrisburg to action.

Patrick is a criminal defense attorney, putting his political beliefs above and beyond his financial interest (which is a common thread among many NORML-affiliated attorneys, including two of my mentors, Dan Viets in Missouri and Leland Berger in Oregon). Theresa works in the law office as a paralegal and I would encourage the Pittsburgh cannabis community to support their law firm and Pittsburgh NORML. It is very challenging juggling activism with work and family life, and and this power couple is accomplishing a lot, despite the obstacles. I wish the Nightingales and all of the Pennsylvania cannabis activists the best of luck and look forward to covering their future success stories.

Anthony Johnson

Anthony, a longtime cannabis law reform advocate, was Chief Petitioner and co-author of Measure 91, Oregon's cannabis legalization effort. He served as director of both the New Approach Oregon and Vote Yes on 91 PACs, the political action committees responsible for the state's legalization campaign. As director of New Approach Oregon, Anthony continues to work towards effectively implementing the cannabis legalization system while protecting small business owners and the rights of patients. He sits on the Oregon Marijuana Rules Advisory Committee and fights for sensible rules at the legislature as well as city councils and county commissions across the state. Anthony helps cannabis business comply with Oregon's laws and advises advocates across the country. He also serves as content director of both the International Cannabis Business Conference and the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference, helping share the vision of moving the cannabis industry forward in a way that maintains the focus on keeping people out of prison and protecting patients. He was a member of the Oregon Health Authority Rules Advisory Committee, assisting the drafting of the administrative rules governing Oregon’s state-licensed medical marijuana facilities. He first co-authored and helped pass successful marijuana law reform measures while a law student at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. He passed the Oregon Bar in 2005 and practiced criminal defense for two years before transitioning to working full-time in the political advocacy realm. His blogs on Marijuana Politics are personal in nature and don't speak for or reflect the opinions of any group or organization.