The Semantics of Weed

After Thomas’ recriminalization ordinance, weed possession on the first offense was a fourth-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine.

When then-Cincinnati City Councilman Cecil Thomas in 2006 convinced four council members to enact his punitive and pious zero-tolerance weed ordinance recriminalizing weed possession with jail time and fines, maybe he had no idea the wreckage his little law would make of countless (mostly black, mostly poor) lives throughout the city.

He’d said the brunt of weed possession was happening in “our troubled neighborhoods.”

Now, all these years later, another of my least favorite black blowhard politicians, the Rev. Charles Winburn, has saddled-up semantics and is trying to ride piggyback-style off Thomas’ past weed ordinance — repealed in 2010 — into a coveted state Senate seat.

The two are also running against state Rep. Dale Mallory and former Cincinnati Board of Education President Catherine Ingram.

But it’s the latest war of words being waged by Winburn and not the stale War on Drugs that’s piqued my interest.

In the seemingly non-stop radio ads running on the two Cincinnati radio stations playing black music — one playing the same 10 songs in heavy rotation; one playing songs when black people played instruments — Winburn drops Thomas’ name like an ISIS air strike, incessantly blaming Thomas for the original 2006 weed ordinance that besmirched the records of weed offenders charged with minor misdemeanors who now have problems securing jobs, housing, etc.

Until Thomas led the City Council charge to recriminalize weed possession in 2006, Ohio had on its books since the 1970s a law that punished the possession of up to 100 grams of weed (slightly less than one-quarter pound) with a ticket and a $100 fine. However, after Thomas’ recriminalization ordinance, weed possession on the first offense was a fourth-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine; subsequent infringements became first-degree misdemeanors punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Reportedly, more than 10,000 people have been convicted of misdemeanor weed charges.

Winburn, in all his bluster, claims he “voted against” Thomas’ ordinance. This means he was present to vote against the ordinance along with then-Vice Mayor Jim Tarbell and then-Councilman David Crowley, the only two “no” votes in the 4-2 passage of the ordinance.

Not so fast, reverend.

What Winburn did was this: When Winburn was term limited from running again for council, he appointed the intellectually and politically challenged Chris Monzel, he of Tea Party Dreams, to take his seat. So when the vote came in 2006 for the weed ordinance, of course Monzel was among the four council members who voted to adopt the ordinance.

So, technically, Winburn was not even present for the original vote.

However, after cooling his council jets and getting back on City Council as if there is a revolving door for stale, career politicians (a door unforeseen by the rest of us, for sure), Winburn returned. And when the vote came before council to repeal Thomas’ original ordinance, then Winburn voted to rescind it.

Never really against it.

What would Jesus do with a preacher-cum-politician peddling in semantics? What type of verbiage and hyperbole will Winburn roll out for the King of Kings when he comes before the throne and has to account for his dealings here on Earth?

Thomas, like Winburn, is yet another Cincinnati prototype, a person who started life as one thing — in this case, a cop — and transitioned to another thing — a City Councilman.

Nothing at all wrong with that.

These types of transitions become problematic when these people cannot decide what to put down from their former selves and what to pick up with their newer selves.

That is, what part of their former selves belongs in the hallowed halls of City Council working for the greater good of the citizenry?

They get confused, which leads inevitably to paternalistic narcissism, all because they’re trying to map their very likenesses off on the rest of us without one iota of consideration of the effects their political strong arming will have on the rest of us long term.

The good news is we don’t have to worry for now about Thomas. Until Election Day, anyway.

By the way, where has Thomas been? He hasn’t yet answered any of Winburn’s digs against him and his yard signs are few and far between.

He’s been busy the past several months seeing to the political future of embattled Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter — appearing at her pre-trial proceedings and now her trial, pleading with commissioners to intervene in the county prosecutor’s bloodlust for Hunter’s bench and leading a tour through her chambers likely to expose the disparities between her judicial digs and those of Juvenile Court Judge John Williams.

But when that’s over or he tires of dipping only his toe in the limelight, will he be able to beat back a pretty serious group of state Senate candidates?

Meantime, our main concern should be Winburn, an arch conservative pawn of the far, far right, a man who’s jittery and cat-like in the company of his detractors who, like every other Cincinnati-tested politician, now wants to take his show on the road.

I don’t personally trust him as far as I can mute him, but he does have the money and the commercial saturation to at least reach the (black) voter heretofore disenfranchised, hurt or burdened by the weed ordinance Jim Tarbell at the time rightly called “regressive.”

If voters were truly engaged and not lazy, they’d look closely at Dale Mallory or Catherine Ingram, two candidates who’ve neither come from the petty pool our council can sometimes turn into nor so far engaged in the mud-slinging that comes from emerging from the pettiness of having worked against one another on City Council.

In this way, Winburn might do himself a great disservice and turn voters off with his Thomas attacks and his blatant semantics.

Then again, if he wins, he’ll get the hell outta here.

Turns into a weird win-win since it’s clear Winburn’s not going away.


CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: [email protected]