Former President and Supreme Court Justice William Howard Taft once observed, “No tendency is quite so strong in human nature as the desire to lay down rules of conduct for other people.” Now, a century later, a few clashing members of his family will likely decide if this continues to be standard operating procedure in the key presidential swing state of Ohio.
Today, Ohio will have one of the most important votes nobody is talking about: The Buckeye State’s voters will go to the polls and decide whether to pull the lever for Issue 3, which would make Ohio the fifth state—and by far the largest so far—to legalize marijuana. Or will Ohio vote against Issue 3 and continue to arrest 12,000 people per year for pot possession?
Passing this measure would achieve a number of firsts: the first Midwestern state to legalize cannabis, and the first state to endorse the use of medicinal and personal use for adults, all in one fell swoop.
And there’s the most fun first: the first time a prominent political family split in half over whether or not to make pot legal.
Woody & Dudley Taft, brothers and great-great-grandnephews of the former president whose name they bear, are big supporters of Issue 3, and investors in a plan to bring 10 marijuana farms to Ohio.
Their cousin, former Ohio Governor Bob Taft (1999-2007), has been just as vocal in opposition to this measure. He and Ohio’s former first lady Hope are still diligently employing the tired “Just Say No” philosophy, which was last and most relevant when Nancy Reagan uttered it on Diff’rent Strokes in 1983.
Then there are the horror stories they tell of kids seemingly getting high on a loop in a post-legal-marijuana zombified society—which, to hear them say it, clearly isn’t happening now, via the scrupled drug dealer on the corner.
Woody did the acting thing for a while before going into business, while Dudley is a musician. So if we’re being honest, their coolness factor over Cousin Bob would immediately seem exponential. Also, there’s the inconvenient fact that the former governor, during his time in office, found a way to piss off just about everyone.
The governor was fined $4,000, or the maximum amount under the law, when convicted of four misdemeanor-ethics violations. From there he watched his fortunes plummet from potential slot on a presidential ticket to a history-defying approval rating of 15 percent in Ohio. The only good thing about this dual ignominy is that eight years have passed and voters tend to have short memories.
Governor Taft’s big charge that made its way into The Cincinnati Enquirer is that gummy bears and other kid-friendly edibles will chart a path right into the hands of our children, turning them into pot-infused little gummy junkies.
This specious line of attack led Woody & Dudley to counter with a letter to the editor, entitled (by the newspaper) “Taft: Other Tafts Wrong About Marijuana”:
Bob and Hope are simply wrong that Issue 3 will legalize candies and other edibles that are “inviting to children.” The third paragraph of the amendment clearly states that edibles will not be “manufactured, packaged or advertised in ways that create a substantial risk of attractiveness to children.” What edibles are actually sold in Ohio will be determined by a newly created and independent Ohio Marijuana Control Commission.
A CBS News interview went much the same way, with Woody showing off land that could be a pot farm and talking about needless suffering with the current pot ban. Meanwhile, Cousin Bob stuck to his view that with legalization we will have delivered Ohio into a parallel universe defined by our very own stoned Lord of The Flies, statistics be damned.
One imagines family reunions will probably get more interesting from here on in—and perhaps even more exciting if Ohio does indeed do what it seems poised to do: vote to legalize.
Of course, there’s been a slight monkey wrench thrust into the works that supporters like Woody have to overcome: Ohio’s legislature, who’s pretty much made an art form of doing the opposite of what Ohioans actually want (see fetuses testifying and guns in bars, for example), decided it couldn’t sit by and watch direct democracy in action without at least trying to mess it up.
So, after failing to get a vote on medicinal marijuana out of committee since 1998—something that 90 percent of Ohioans support—the legislature promptly voted to place an initiative on the ballot called Issue 2.
Issue 2 has been called a “poison pill for direct democracy” by Common Cause Ohio, in that it will not only undo a vote for Issue 3, but take the right to decide what goes on the ballot out of the hands of the people organizing, raising money and getting petitions signed.
Instead, it would place the state’s pivotal pot decision squarely under the purview of four cronies the legislature would itself appoint, plus the Secretary of State. Mind you Ohio’s current Secretary of State, Jon Husted, has recently had trouble figuring out how to vote from the right address.
Woody Taft’s response to all this strikes me as about right: “If we don’t legalize marijuana right now, Issue 2 will make sure we never will.”
The Tafts are not the only interesting subplot in Cincinnati, Ohio, this election cycle. In the city where a large chunk of Traffic, the critically acclaimed film about the failed drug war, was filmed, former boy-bander Nick Lachey and former basketball great Oscar Robertson—both Cincinnatians—are also investors, doing television ads telling people to vote yes for weed on Issue 3.
Former talk show host Montel Williams, who deals daily with the physical toll of multiple sclerosis, has passionately advocated in Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland for the passage of Issue 3 to aid those with intractable epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, and other maladies where medicinal marijuana has proven most effective.
As Montel told The Daily Beast when we talked briefly after a press conference at The Cincinnatian Hotel, “What right do we have to get involved in this conversation, between doctors and their patients?”
But the Tafts still help define this battle, a generational one—Woody Taft is in his 40s, Bob Taft, his 70s—and a disagreement that doesn’t fit neatly into a partisan narrative.
For those 12,000 souls who needlessly go to jail each year and the $100 million we waste imprisoning them, for kids with intractable epilepsy whose seizures can even be life-threatening, and to take a bold step against our disastrously failed War on Drugs, Woody’s side will need to prevail.