Navajo Nation sues over hemp dispute

Navajo Nation sues over hemp dispute

Recent trade war policies and the shutdowns ushered in by the novel coronavirus have done a number on American farmers, including Native American tribe members.

The industrial hemp trade has offered options for those displaced from the rapidly shrinking tobacco trade and other entrepreneurial fronts which have continued to falter. Unfortunately, not everyone in the young business has been operating above-board.

Recently, the Navajo Nation of New Mexico filed a suit against an individual who was growing hemp illegally on its land.

According to the Navajo Times, Dineh Benally is named as a defendant for growing, manufacturing and issuing fake hemp-growing licenses on the outskirts of its land holdings.

Native American Agriculture Co. and Navajo Gold Co. are also defendants in the suit, the Navajo Times reports.

“The Nation has received numerous complaints, tips, and warnings about these illegal activities happening on Navajo lands,” Attorney General Doreen McPaul told the Navajo Times.. “It is unfortunate that in the middle of a global pandemic that has claimed too many of our relatives that the Nation is forced to take this action against one of our own, who seeks to enrich himself in blatant disregard for the laws of the Nation.”

A small University of New Mexico spread is the only area of the reservation currently allowed to grow industrial hemp, according to reporting.

"The unregulated and unauthorized production of any product that will be distributed and consumed by the public is a danger to our citizens,” Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco said according to the Boston Globe.

While many state jurisdictions and others have created original legislation and regulatory frameworks to approve the cultivation of medical marijuana or industrial hemp, the Navajo Nation has no such laws or ordinances on the books according to the Boston Globe.

The alleged illegal activity occurred in the Navajo Nation’s Northwestern Shiprock township.

“Hemp production is happening up and down the San Juan River, not just in Shiprock,” Shiprock Delegate and Law and Order Committee Chair Eugenia Charles-Newton told the Navajo Times. “Other farmers have taken up production of hemp.”

Charles-Newton says that while the Navajo don’t have a consolidated hemp guidance to bring before the U.S. Department of Agriculture, they do allow industrial hemp growing if the products created have a level of THC below a certain limit.

THC is the active, mind-altering ingredient in marijuana and is a relative of CBD.

According to reports, the defendant in the suit is not accused of growing illegal cannabis but did allegedly use the Navajo land without permission from the Nation and defrauded consumers.