“You see the lights up there on that porch? Jump out of the car and run as fast as you can toward those lights.” Those are my instructions from Pittsburgh attorney and NORML Director, Patrick Nightingale. I dart out of the dark car toward the lights on a rainy Wednesday evening. We’ve just arrived at Patrick’s Pittsburgh residence, where he lives with his wife and their beautiful Brady-esque blended family. I get to the door and am greeted by Theresa. She’s the domestic diva who holds down their household and helps Patrick with his practice, also keeping Pittsburgh NORML afloat in her role of Deputy Director.
She takes my coat and shows me to the couch. The couple exchange pleasantries, and Patrick seats himself in a cozy black leather chair. Tonight, I’m looking forward to sitting back and sharing dabs and stories with the First Couple of Pittsburgh pot. Let me say this: I’m not a champion dabber nor do I claim to be. I’m usually a flower smoker, but I’m not too high and mighty to refuse a dab and wouldn’t imagine refusing one from these two.
A family feel
Before we start talking, Theresa warns us to keep it down: “I was just able to get our six-year-old to bed before you guys got here.” Since I wasn’t expecting a raging frat house smoker, I happily oblige. She then takes out a neatly organized wooden dab tray from under the coffee table and offers me my choice of hash oil or live resin. I choose the hash oil first. “We keep our dab tray tucked away usually. We only have it out tonight because we have a guest over,” she says and breaks me off a nice sized dab.
I cough…I cough again…I cough some more. I cough so much they offer a bottle of water…which was, in truth, my master plan. After I catch my breath I begin to lightly pepper the couple with questions. “So how is it being the First Couple of Pittsburgh weed?”
“We’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to speak up and offer a voice for cannabis reform when no one else was doing it. It’s been fun, it’s been exciting, and Pittsburgh has responded very positively,” says Patrick.
THE Weed Couple of Pittsburgh
“I mean it’s cool…not to toot our own horn, but we kind of are like THE weed couple of Pittsburgh, so that’s cool,” Theresa says finishing her dab.
“What’s the cannabis culture like in western Pennsylvania? This isn’t the place most people think of as weed friendly. You all have decrim right, how’s that working?” I reach for a handful of fresh made popcorn Patrick has placed on the coffee table. Kettle corn…sweet!
“It’s good. We have 30 grams of flower and up to eight grams of hash decriminalized here,” Theresa says laughing towards Patrick. “I made him add the hash thing in there ‘cause Patrick wrote it.” She gives a nod to her husband in the comfy chair. When I first got to Pittsburgh I understood they had decriminalization but not like this. Thirty grams of flower and eight of hash is a lot more than the ten grams decrim we “enjoy” in Maryland. I came to Pittsburgh very under the radar with only an eighth and a dugout, not knowing I could have been better prepared.
“What about outside of Pittsburgh, what are the laws like there?”
Patrick just shakes his head. “You’re on your own out there,” says Theresa jokingly, “decrim is only in Pittsburgh.”
“How are your cops here?”
“Public smoking is illegal but they usually don’t mess with you as long as you’re not being an ass.” Patrick tells me, “As long as you’re not smoking it in their face they don’t really care.”
Theresa then explains how decriminalization was sort of an easy push in the Steel City. “We had a lot of crazy people making rambling speeches during our city council hearings but no one stood up against it. We probably had 50 people speak and everyone was for decriminalization.”
Just then we begin to hear a rumbling coming from upstairs “Yes?” yells Theresa up into a darkened hallway. Patrick tidies up the dab tray and returns it underneath the coffee table.
Come down and say hi
“Who’s here?” the tiny voice says from upstairs.
“It’s a friend, come down and say hi.”
In a flash her tiny blonde head pokes over the banister, and the six-year-old makes her way downstairs. She jumps on the couch next to her mom, wearing a floor length pink t-shirt. “You know you need to be in bed right?” Theresa says looking at the child.
“If you have company I get to stay up,” says the girl so convincingly I believe this to be a house rule.
“Nice try.” Theresa grabs the young one by her hand and walks her back upstairs.
The child provides me with a perfect segue. “How is it being a parent and cannabis activist?”
Patrick listens out for his wife upstairs, returns the dab tray to the table, and speaks: “It imposes a responsibility to show that there’s nothing about being a cannabis advocate or cannabis consumer that makes any difference in one’s day to day professional and familial responsibilities. I have an active practice, we’re parents who are active with our children, and we’re also cannabis consumers. We know what it means to be a responsible adult.”
Theresa tips toes down the stairs with a finger over her mouth. She takes her place back on the couch and catches up with the conversation. “I think being a parent legitimizes our activism a little more; it changes the stereotype of who a cannabis consumer actually is. It’s not some kid that looks like Spicoli who’s walking around giggling. It’s moms and dads and lawyers and stay-at-home moms too. It’s everybody. A lot of people smoke weed, it’s 11-15% of the population. There’s a lot of us.”
This would become the theme of our conversation. As long as you’re handling your adult responsibilities and taking care of your kids, what does it matter if you take a dab or two? Theresa heats the nail and graciously offers me another; I accept and select the live resin this time. It goes down a lot smoother than the first one…but I instantly feel it behind my eyes…and now my eyes won’t stop watering.
Spreading the word to other parents
Hoping they won’t notice, I continue with my questions. As a new parent I have concerns about meeting other parents who are cool with the cannabis consumer lifestyle, so I ask, “Is it difficult being a parent out of the cannabis closet?”
Theresa clears her rig, exhales a plume of smoke, and answers, “Sometimes moms will come up to me and say how brave I am or how crazy I am for doing what I’m doing…but it doesn’t feel brave or crazy.”
I wipe my burning eyes and push her some more on the topic: “Why do you think they think you’re brave?”
“I guess it is,” she relents, “it is a risk to do what we do with kids, knowing CPS could be called at any time for not even consuming cannabis but simply possessing it in your home.”
Both Theresa and Patrick have dealt with divorce and the uncertainty that comes when ending a relationship with a partner who knows they consume cannabis. As someone newly married to a non-smoker, I pay extra attention to their replies. But the second dab is making it hard to concentrate.
“Being a dad it’s a little easier. The fathers in our Boy Scout troop all think it’s kind of cool,” Patrick says with a smile on his face.
“At this point it’s who we are,” Theresa chimes in. “All you have to do is google me and you can see my interest in cannabis.”
“If someone is going to not like us or our family, they’ll find any reason to, and some people use cannabis as their excuse. I try not to worry about them,” says Patrick as he’s handed the rig.
“But do you think things will get better for parents as legalization spreads?”
“Legalization will certainly help. The legal standing of marijuana is the reason for a lot of the worry. In things like divorce and custody battles, taking away the threat of your ex accusing you of being a weed smoker, and the stigmas that brings, will only help,” responds Patrick as he sinks deeper into his chair.
Thinking about the children
“What about the kids,” I say jokingly. “How do you explain cannabis use to them?”
Theresa responds, “Well first off you don’t smoke around your kid, that’s just not cool. Second, I try and be as real as I can without being too real. I’m lucky mine is young and I have a little more time to figure it out. But I will tell them there’s a time and a place for cannabis…and that’s college.”
Theresa offers me one more dab. I begrudgingly say yes (when in Pittsburgh…) and choose the live resin. I’m well past my limit now, as our conversation moves from pot and parenting into the news of the day: presidential politics, gerrymandering, election fraud, and the like. Theresa comments on the Simpson’s episode playing in the background: “This is one of my favorite episodes, remember this one Patrick?”
She looks over to her husband who is now asleep in his La-Z-Boy. The ever-hospitable domestic diva orders me an Uber to return me to my downtown hotel.
Hanging out all night smoking weed and talking crap with your friends isn’t what it was before I had a child. I arrived at the hotel and was in bed before 10:30. But that’s the life of a pot consuming parent…like I said I wasn’t expecting a frat house smoker.