For one Pittsburgh-based social media user, trolling has a higher purpose, a very high one: fixing Pennsylvania’s marijuana laws.
Pittsburgh City Paper spoke to the person behind two troll-y, marijuana-themed social media accounts about the successes and failures of their advocacy through trolling. City Paper verified the person’s identity, but is withholding the user’s name to maintain their anonymity online. The accounts they manage are @pittsburghatory on Twitter and @mconstant412 on Instagram.
They have been an advocate for marijuana for most of their life. They worked at a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy firm for some time and have experience in traditional advocacy efforts like rallies and pressuring legislators through campaigns. They also sent emails to dispensary companies and the state health department, but rarely heard back.
“Going to rallies, holding signs, and calling legislators, it only does so much,” says the user. “I am not gonna sell myself as this perfect advocate, but I was looking for something different.”
They believe traditional advocacy is necessary, but sometimes can be a bit diluted. They say advocating for recreational weed is a noble goal, but to help medical marijuana patients in the immediate, trying to legalize the ability for patients to grow marijuana plants is more pressing. It’s illegal for individual Pennsylvanians, even medical marijuana patients, to grow cannabis plants, and doing so can result in a felony.
So they started to reply to some large social media accounts who have power and influence over marijuana policy and advocacy, namely Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-Braddock), Pa. Second Lady Gisele Fetterman, and Scott Paterno, a former Republican Congressional candidate turned lobbyist, who is also the son of late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.
The @pittsburghatory Twitter account often replies to John Fetterman’s account when he mentions weed, specifically asking John to call for legalizing growing plants for medical patients. They realize Fetterman doesn’t have unilateral power to make this fix, but the replies started to see more engagement anyway.
To the user, the trolling was actually helping to spread this specific message and educate people about potential changes to Pennsylvania’s law. They say they have made similar efforts on Instagram using hashtags, and have seen more engagement on that platform.
One time, they replied to a post Gisele made and “put them on blast.” They say Gisele ended up private messaging the user about not being happy over the harsh criticism, which the user agreed was over the top, but then they both ended up having a conversation about the state’s growing laws.
Trolling resulted in direct communication with Gisele, which is farther than the user has gotten in reaching out to dispensaries and health department officials. The user also says that Paterno once put out a PDF statement about his lobbying efforts with a marijuana group.
But this also means abrasive tweets at legislators. On April 7, when state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Fulton) tweeted out an op-ed he penned about so-called vaccine-passports and wrote, “Medical freedom must be preserved,” @pittsburghatory replied, “LOL are you serious? Medical cannabis patients have NO freedom. You are a hypocrite and a seditionist. [Clown face emoji].”
LOL are you serious? Medical cannabis patients have NO freedom. You are a hypocrite and a seditionist. 🤡— Pittsburghatory (@pittsburghatory) April 7, 2021
The user’s goal is to bring more attention to the state’s reluctance to allow patients to grow their own cannabis, which is opposed by some dispensary groups, as well as what they call other flaws in Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana law. And maybe they will build some momentum, one troll-y post at a time.
“The shepherding is a real thing,” they say of how to direct online marijuana advocacy. “Stop yelling at Fetterman and Wolf for not legalizing recreational weed,” they add. “Be a troll with nuance.”