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Navajo Nation police, agencies update residents on efforts to end hemp, marijuana farms

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

LOWER FRUITLAND — The Navajo Nation's justice department, prosecutor's office, police department and environmental protection agency updated community members about the ongoing efforts to end hemp and marijuana farming on the reservation.

The information came two days after the tribal government filed a civil lawsuit against 33 individuals, accusing them of violating tribal law for growing hemp or marijuana.

Charlie Galbraith, one of the attorneys representing the tribe, explained they are still serving copies of the complaint to each defendant.

Oliver Whaley, executive director of the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency, talks about inspections the agency completed on hemp farms during an informational meeting for community members on Oct. 30 at the San Juan Chapter house in Lower Fruitland.

"They'll have their opportunity to appear in court and tell their side of the story," Galbraith said during the Oct. 30 meeting that happened outside the San Juan Chapter house.

Galbraith is also representing the tribe in the civil case against Dineh Benally, a Shiprock resident the tribe sued, along with two of his businesses, alleging they were illegally issuing land use permits to foreign entities to grow industrial hemp.

More:Two alleged marijuana distribution cases tied to hemp farm operations

Last month, the Shiprock Judicial District court granted a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop growing activities at farms in Shiprock and surrounding communities.

Galbraith said the court has yet to decide the permanent injunction sought in the case.

In the meantime, the tribe filed an order to show cause against Benally for farms that are reportedly still operating, which also remains under consideration by the Shiprock court.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Rick Nez, center, talks to community members during an informational meeting about hemp farms on Oct. 30 at the San Juan Chapter house in Lower Fruitland.

The Navajo Police Department established in September a hotline to receive complaints about the farms.

Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco said information collected from the hotline has resulted in 107 traffic stops, 288 citations and 38 arrests as well as the confiscation of $62,000 and thousands of pounds of hemp and marijuana.

Immediately following Francisco's update, several attendees stated the police's actions were not enough to keep residents safe and stop ongoing activities at the farms.

Navajo Nation Attorney General Doreen McPaul, left, and Charlie Galbraith, the tribe's attorney in the Dineh Benally case, listen to comments from a community member during an informational meeting about hemp farms on Oct. 30 at the San Juan Chapter house in Lower Fruitland.

Acting Chief Prosecutor Jennifer Henry said her office has been filing criminal complaints against Navajos and non-Navajos for interfering with judicial proceedings because they continue to operate.

"We have the ability to prosecute non-Navajos as well," Henry said adding the office has charged individuals with unlawful carrying of a deadly weapon, threatening and controlled substances.

Attorney General Doreen McPaul said tribal government agencies continue to address the ramifications of the farms.

At center, Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco gives an update to community members about the hotline the department operates for calls about hemp farms during an informational meeting on Oct. 30 at the San Juan Chapter house in Lower Fruitland.

"There's the public safety fallout from it. There's the environmental harm fallout from it. There's the impact on the schools, the kids. There's lots of things that are the results of it," she said adding agencies are working with federal partners to resolve the situation.

"It's a large effort but you have our attention, you have our commitment, you have our presence," she said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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