Navajo Looking to Develop Industrial Hemp Farming on Tribal Lands
By Michael Maharrey
The Navajo Tribe has signed a resolution to grow industrial hemp on tribal lands, another step undermining federal prohibition in effect.
According to a report published in Forbes, the Navajo will work with CannaNative to develop industrial hemp farming. The organization assists tribes in developing hemp and cannabis-based economies on Native American lands throughout the United States.
“I believe that the Indian cannabis industry will far surpass the Indian gaming industry,” said CannaNative chief executive officer Anthony Rivera. While gaming has been lucrative, it hasn’t benefited all tribes and casino growth numbers are slowing. The Indian community sees industrial hemp as a revenue source that will level the play field for all tribes.
As a next step, CannaNative officials will meet with the Navajo Agricultural Products Industries (NAPI) farms CEO to arrange for a signed MOU/Resolution to proceed.
Rivera told Forbes his organization will work with closely with Navajo commerce and agricultural divisions. Tribal lands cover parts of New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. The farm where they plan to begin industrial hemp production is in New Mexico.
State law could play a major role in the development of a Navajo hemp industry. In 2015, the feds raided a farm on the Menominee Indian reservation in Wisconsin and eradicated 30,000 cannabis plants planted for hemp research. The feds contend they contained THC levels above those allowable for hemp.The tribe lost a lawsuit with the federal judge saying that because Wisconsin hasn’t legalized marijuana, the tribe couldn’t grow it within state borders.
Legalization of industrial hemp in New Mexico would help facilitate tribal plans. They can proceed with or without state legalization, but eliminating a layer of state laws would certainly make the path toward developing a hemp economy smoother. In April 2015, New Mexico Gov, Susanna Martinez vetoed a bill legalizing hemp production within the state. She cited contradictions between state and federal law.
Up until recently, the federal government maintained almost complete prohibition on industrial hemp. While it was technically legal to grow hemp, farmers had to obtain a permit from the DEA, a nearly impossible task.
Early in 2014, President Barack Obama signed a new farm bill into law, which included a provision allowing a handful of states to begin limited research programs growing hemp. The “hemp amendment”
…allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges and universities to grow hemp, defined as the non-drug oil-seed and fiber varieties of Cannabis, for academic or agricultural research purposes, but it applies only to states where industrial hemp farming is already legal under state law.
In short, current federal law authorizes the farming of hemp – by research institutions only, for research only. Farming for commercial purposes by individuals and businesses remains prohibited. Laws in these states ignore federal prohibition and authorizes commercial farming and production anyway.
But several states, including Colorado, Oregon, Maine and Vermont have simply ignored federal prohibition altogether and legalized hemp production. The minimal possibility of federal prosecution has not stopped some growers from taking advantage of the opportunities they see with the door now cracked open to develop a hemp market in these states. Hemp industries have already started developing in Vermont, Colorado, Maine and other states that have legalized it at the state level.
In Maine, the Passamaquoddy Tribe has obtained a permit to cultivate industrial hemp in Maine. Quoddy Hemp Manufacturing LLC spokeswoman Diana Nelson told the Press Herald the company “has obtained seeds from Kentucky and the Passamaquoddy Tribe is researching what kinds of hemp might grow best in northern New England.”
Recent economic reports suggest that the U.S. market for hemp is at a minimum $600 million per year. Industry observers count as many as 25,000 uses for industrial hemp, including food, cosmetics, plastics and bio-fuel. The U.S. is currently the world’s number-one importer of hemp fiber for various products, with China and Canada acting as the top two exporters in the world.
A development of a hemp industry could provide a much needed economic boom for the Navajo. The tribe has a population of over 300,000 and its tribal lands cover more area than 10 U.S. states. But poverty plagues the tribe, with more than 48 percent of its population unemployed. The feds would be hard-pressed to crack down on Navajo farmers simply trying to improve the tribe’s economic situation.
Tribal hemp production would serve to further grow the U.S. hemp market. That would place even more pressure on federal prohibition. As the market grows, and more people engage in hemp production, more people will become emboldened creating an exponential wave, ultimately nullifying the federal ban in effect.
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