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Navajo Nation sues 33 farmers over hemp, marijuana farms

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington 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 at 9:14 p.m. on Oct. 28, stating its was filed earlier in the day in the Shiprock Judicial District.

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"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.

An officer with the Navajo Police Department helps with the effort to enforce a court order on Sept. 19 to stop hemp farm activities in Shiprock.

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.

The release states the following individuals were named as defendants: Farley BlueEyes, Deana Alvarado, Gilbert Bedonie, William Bedonie, Richard Begaye (aka Richard Begay), Donald Benally, Margaret Benally (aka Marjorie Benally), Marcus Benally (aka Markus Benally), Winston Benally, Lula Boy, Grace Chavez, Harrison Cly, Jimmie Coolidge (Jimmy Coolidge), David Devore, Marcus Field, Margaret Harrison, Anita Hayes, Perry Hayes, Robin Hayes, Robert Hayes, Freddie Hobson, Larry Jack, Austin Jim, Fernando Jim, Jean Jones, Donald Kee, Kathy Manis, Sherrel Mesa, Lynette Muttes, Louise Pettigrew, Ronnie Ross, Gene Sherrell and Nita Yazzie.

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"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.

Bales of growing mix for indoor plants sit unopened on Sept. 23 at a hemp farm on Mesa Farm Road in Shiprock.

"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.

Greenhouses are pictured on Sept. 23 at a hemp farm on Mesa Farm Road in Shiprock. The Navajo Police Department continues to enforce a court order to stop the cultivation of the plant.

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.

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"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.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-546-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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