November 17, 2020

Cannabis and Indigenous Communities

Native Americans governments across the country and even in New Mexico are diverse in many of their views, including cannabis. 

This week on Growing Forward, a podcast collaboration between NM Political Report and New Mexico PBS, we take a look at how Native American communities fit into state-wide legalization efforts. 

We spoke with Navajo Times reporter Arlyssa Becenti about the work she’s done covering a hemp and cannabis scandal near Shiprock. 

Becenti has been covering a hemp growing operation overseen by Dineh Benally. Most recently, federal law enforcement got involved and reportedly arrested a group of people accused of illegally growing hemp and possibly cannabis with THC. 

Benally said the Navajo Nation is working on clarifying and changing laws on hemp. But cannabis with THC is still illegal in New Mexico and in the Navajo Nation. 

Becenti told Growing Forward that some in the Navajo Nation are still grappling with hemp’s place in their community, but that trying to pinpoint one unified view on cannabis is hard.  

“There’s just no one underlying traditional belief,” Becenti said. “We all have our different beliefs and how we interpret Navajo beliefs and Navajo traditions, even Native language is so different from one side of the reservation to the next side of the reservation.”

Monica Braine, a producer with the nation-wide call-in show Native America Calling, agreed that just like counties and states don’t have a unified view on legalization, Native American governments also have a diverse outlook on the matter. 

But, Braine said for those tribal governments that do want to get in on the legalization action, it can be tricky. 

“In the past, it kind of seemed like tribes have been sort of an afterthought unless they demand or it’s required by law that consultation happens,” Braine said. 

She added that she doesn’t think tribal leaders necessarily have the resources to squeeze their way to the proverbial negotiation table to make sure they’re included in legalization legislation. 

“I’m not sure that pueblos and tribes in New Mexico have the time and energy to make sure that they have a place at the table and they shouldn’t have to,” Braine said. 

But Emily Kaltenbach with the New Mexico Drug Policy Alliance said she’s not entirely sure what legalization bills next year will look like exactly, but that previous attempts did address Native American governments. 

“Last year’s bill actually required that there would be some tribal agreements with the state for many reasons,” Kaltenbach said. “We want to see sovereign nations be able to stand up their own legalization systems, both on the medical and the adult-use side.”

New episodes of Growing Forward, which was made possible, in part, by the New Mexico Local News Fund, are released every Tuesday. 

You can check out the latest episode below or you can search for it wherever you normally listen to your podcasts.