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Navajo Nation sues over hemp, marijuana farms

Officers from the Navajo Police Department speak with workers at a hemp farm on Sept. 19 in Shiprock. The department has been enforcing a court order to halt hemp and marijuana farming activities. (Source: Navajo Police Via Daily Times)

FARMINGTON – The Navajo Nation is suing 33 farmers for allegedly violating tribal law by growing hemp, marijuana or both in Shiprock and the surrounding area.

The tribe’s Department of Justice announced the lawsuit Wednesday night, stating it was filed earlier in the day in the Shiprock Judicial District.

“The Navajo Nation alleges that these defendants possess or control Navajo lands that are being used to illegally grow, produce, manufacture, transport or sell industrial hemp and/or marijuana. These actions, according to the lawsuit, are irreparably injuring and contaminating the nation’s lands, waters, and other natural resources,” the release states.

This month, Navajo officials amended the tribe’s criminal code to categorize all parts of the plant, Cannabis sativa L., as marijuana and listed the possession or distribution of the plant as a criminal offense.

“Despite legislation that clearly illegalizes hemp and marijuana on the Navajo Nation, many farmers have chosen to jeopardize their farms and the health of the community by growing and producing hemp and marijuana for personal gain,” Attorney General Doreen McPaul said in the release.

“These individuals have substantially injured the community and the nation, as a whole, by illegally drilling wells to water their hemp and marijuana plants, by illegally dumping and burying solid waste, by carelessly storing and applying hazardous pesticides on their lands, and installing ill-constructed septic tanks that are leaking sewage into our lands and groundwater,” she said.

This is the second lawsuit the tribe has filed over hemp operations that were established this summer in Shiprock and nearby communities, which became a contentious issue between residents.

In September, the Shiprock Judicial District issued a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop Shiprock resident Dineh Benally and his associates from growing or cultivating hemp on the reservation.

“Since then, the Navajo Nation Police Department has worked tirelessly to enforce the injunction, but individual farmers have continued to grow, harvest and transport hemp and/or marijuana,” the release states.

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