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WYSO's coverage of the 2011 Election

Taft Family Represents Two Sides Of The Marijuana Coin

Former Ohio Governor Bob Taft says he disagrees with his cousins on marijuana. But the disagreement is quite civil.
Lewis Wallace

The marijuana initiative on Tuesday’s ballot in Ohio went down in flames, with 65 percent voting “no” on legalizing recreational and medical marijuana. At issue, in part, was the idea that the constitutional amendment would have created a monopoly in the state constitution, by letting just ten groups of investors open commercial grow sites in the state.

And two members of a famous Cincinnati family stood on opposing sides.

“I’m a little bit of the black sheep in the family,” says Dudley Taft. He’s a blues-rock singer, songwriter and guitar player, and yes, a Taft—a relative of the late President William Howard Taft and his powerful family.

Dudley Taft’s branch of the family might be called the business Tafts—they developed King’s Island amusement park, among other projects. He was living in Seattle for years, putting out rock albums, including one on Capitol Records. But now he’s back in Cincinnati, and a bit more open to the business path.

“I do do a little bit of investing with my father and my brother,” Taft admits.

His latest investment was the marijuana initiative known as Issue 3—he and his brother Woody got in on what would have become a grow site in Butler County.

Their third cousin had a problem with that.

“The [marijuana] proponents were, I believe, overambitious, perhaps overly greedy,” says Bob Taft, former governor of Ohio and perhaps the best well-known of the living political Tafts. He thinks the ten groups of wealthy people who funded the marijuana campaign went too far, and that includes his cousins. Remember: these investors funded the campaign for Issue 3, and if it had passed, they would have been the only people with commercial growing rights.

“Certainly the fact that I had cousins as investors made me very sensitive to the fact that this was an investor-driven issue,” Bob Taft says.

Taft is a professor at the University of Dayton now, and he watched the whole thing carefully because it was politically interesting. Especially by the end of the campaign, it wasn’t really a debate over marijuana anymore—it was a debate over the idea of granting growing rights to a select few.

“The fact that the word monopoly was in the ballot language I’m sure was a big reason why Issue 3 went down by such a large margin,” he says.

But when it comes to his younger Taft cousins in Cincy, he says—no harm, no foul over this controversial ballot issue. And nothing awkward at Thanksgiving, either—but that’s because they aren’t actually very close relatives, Taft says, laughing.

For his part, Dudley Taft says it’s great to be back in the midwest music scene, even if he did leave Washington just when that state made marijuana legal. He remains a staunch supporter of legal marijuana, and he’d still love to get to know his third cousin Bob better someday. “I hope that us standing on two different sides of issue 3 doesn’t put a kink in that at all.”

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