Oregon State Senator Floyd Prozanski has been a leader on sensible criminal justice reform, including cannabis and hemp policy, since he entered the Oregon Legislature back in 1995. As Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Co-Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Marijuana Legalization, he has been a steady voice advocating that Oregon move away from a punitive justice system and that the state implements policies that help small cannabis farmers and mom-and-pop businesses.
Ahead of his Q&A at the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference this weekend in Ashland, Floyd was nice enough to sit down for a few questions, shedding a light on his motivations, personal history and why he supports sensible criminal justice reforms, including positive cannabis and hemp regulations.
Anthony Johnson: When did you first start supporting ending cannabis prohibition and why?
My sister was murdered by a drug dealer when I was in high school. She told him she was leaving and he killed her because he thought she knew too much about his business dealings. She was a casualty of our nation’s failed “War on Drugs” policy. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to move cannabis out of the illegal market, regulate it and put money back into our communities.
Working in the criminal justice system for the past 30 years, you realize certain drug policies just don’t work. Cannabis prohibition is one of them. The research literature and anecdotal evidence clearly shows that cannabis provides medicinal benefits to many Oregonians throughout the state. Further, I do not think marijuana should be a Schedule 1 drug like heroin. It’s even more ironic since we know marijuana has assisted heroin addicts in breaking their addiction to heroin!
You’ve also been a long-time supporter of hemp, first proposing a hemp bill in 1997 and finally getting one passed twelve years later. Did you find the delay frustrating? Have you been frustrated with the delay in implementation and do you see a bright future for Oregon hemp farmers?
Well, it did take over a decade to pass the legislation, but I’ve taken the delays in stride. It was a new concept for many legislators even though we were only reintroducing an agriculture crop that used to be grown under a government-sponsored program, “Hemp for Victory,” during World War II. Now the states are having to deal with federal intervention. Today, we are discovering the many attributes of hemp including as a source for CBD oils and extracts.
It was just ridiculous that we were importing hemp from China, Canada and other countries when Oregon farmers could be cultivating it. After all, we are known as the grass seed capital of the world!
The recently passed Federal Farm Act redefining hemp as separate from marijuana really started to open things up. We are just at the tip of the iceberg. Research and breeding is being done in Oregon and it’s highly likely that we will find more medical benefits from CBD, CBG and other cannabinoids. Hopefully, Oregon will be positioned to be one of the leading research centers in the country.
You were one of the very first (if not the first) elected officials to endorse the Measure 91 legalization law. How do you see some of the benefits and consequences of the law?
I’ve been pleased on one hand, especially with the decrease in arrests and citations, along with the expungement of old marijuana offenses, but I’ve been shocked on another as to how some of our laws have been misinterpreted. Restricting the OMMP has been very detrimental to patients and to those willing to provide medicine to individuals with medical needs.
We have seen interpretations taken to a level that none of the Joint Committee on Marijuana Legalization members anticipated. On November 15th, I’m chairing a panel to see what we can do to minimize the adverse effects on the OMMP. The agency hastily started implementing plant limits during this growing season. That in turn put many patients’ medicines at risk. Fortunately, OHA’s executive administration has responded favorably in addressing many of these concerns and is working with legislators in finding positive solutions on other issues.
As cannabis’ medicinal properties become more widely known, more patients may want to utilize the medicine but find that they lack access, for a variety of reasons, either due to poverty or a lack of dispensaries in their area. Do you see the potential in the future to put aside some marijuana tax revenue and fees to assist low-income patients? What about allowing delivery into areas that have banned dispensaries?
Absolutely, I definitely see the state moving forward with ways that will get cannabis into the hands of people in need. I also hope that we continue to find ways to ensure medical dispensaries stay a part of our distribution system for cardholders. There are multiple options for the state to consider in addressing this problem. Whether that is setting aside tax dollars or some type of process where medicine gets directly to patients, I don’t know. We just need to be working on this problem now not later.
I also believe that we can have a viable medical program as well as a strong recreational system. I am concerned about patients and small medical and recreational farmers. I look forward to working on a model that will support both and allow the state’s recreational system to position itself for the future.
You recently returned from an Oregon delegation trip to Norway, learning about that nation’s corrections system. What were some of your takeaways from Norway’s criminal justice system?
Norway’s correctional system has set the standard on how to get better outcomes while holding offenders accountable for their actions. They understand that you need to model the outcomes you want inmates to adopt in their daily life. Inmates are recognized as neighbors who have made misstates who need to be held accountable for their actions, but will be returning to their communities. Prison guards are considered “agents of change” and work closely with inmates to assist inmates to learn life skills and to advance themselves to be better neighbors. Inmates maintain the right to vote and are encouraged to remain engaged in society. Personal assessments are done on each inmate, thus providing a detailed report on their individual needs — whether it be educational, job skills, mental health services or other services.
Do you hope to bring some of Norway’s system to Oregon?
Definitely. It’s simply a better policy for society. Norway’s recidivism rate is 20 percent, compared to Oregon’s 40 percent. I’ve always advocated for restorative justice and hope that we can continue to make strides in Oregon to bring more of a restorative system to Oregon. We can reduce victimization by reducing recidivism rates. By mentoring inmates as people and providing them with beneficial life skills they become good neighbors and are able to provide for themselves and their families. It’s time to invest in future public safety by adopting a restorative justice system instead of just locking people up.