Allegations of marijuana cultivation performed by immigrant labor have gripped members of the Navajo Nation in recent weeks.

Navajo leaders are now taking on an entrepreneur who is said to be growing 400 acres of hemp and marijuana on the tribe’s land in the southwestern United States. The entrepreneur and Navajo member, Dineh Benally, has reportedly “formed a partnership with a Las Vegas company that says it develops hemp and cannabis businesses on Native American lands,” according to the Arizona Republic.

The newspaper reported that tribal leaders have taken Benally to court to stop the cultivation, landing a victory last week when a district judge imposed a temporary restraining order on the hemp farming.

“Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said the order grants tribal law enforcement officers authority to stop hemp production. Navajo Nation police have begun asking some workers on the hemp farms — people law enforcement officials claim are immigrant workers from Asia — to leave tribal land,” the Arizona Republic reported. “The ruling appears to provide a brief break in the dispute that came to a head this summer over the legality of Benally’s operation, which he claims has also provided employment for more than 200 members of the tribal nation. The hemp farms are located around Shiprock on the Navajo Nation, which encompasses northeastern Arizona, northwest New Mexico and a sliver of southeastern Utah.”

Some Navajo residents and leaders have accused Benally of also growing marijuana. Both hemp and marijuana are forbidden on the tribe’s land.

“I see marijuana plants. I see a bunch of foreign workers, armed security guards. I see a security patrol 32 feet from my front door,” 75-year-old Beatrice Redfeather said in court last week, as quoted by the Arizona Republic. “Those security guards have made it known they will attack, and they have shown their guns to our family. We are mentally afraid to walk outside … The smell of marijuana is so strong that I have had to go to the hospital because of my severe headaches.”

Sovereignty And Cannabis

Marijuana and hemp cultivation on tribal lands has been embraced by other Native American communities. In South Dakota, Oglala Sioux Tribe members voted earlier this year on measures to legalize recreational and medical marijuana on the reservation; each measure overwhelmingly passed. 

The vote made the Oglala Sioux the only tribe to have legalized marijuana within a state where it is still prohibited. That could, however, change come to November, with South Dakotans set to vote on a pair of their own measures to legalize medical and recreational marijuana. 

Advocates for both proposals were dealt some encouraging news this month, with a poll showing large majorities in support of recreational and medical cannabis.

Sixty percent of respondents in the survey said they support Constitutional Amendment A, a proposal to allow adults aged 21 and over to use marijuana in South Dakota, while 70 percent said that they back Initiated Measure 26, which would make cannabis legal for patients with qualifying medical conditions.

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