In the latest development from an ongoing legal battle involving the Navajo Nation, two tribal members have been formally charged with illegal marijuana cultivation. A lawyer for one of the defendants said that the facility was growing hemp, not marijuana.
Staff Report from Ganjapreneur January 11 2024
According to a recent report from the Navajo-Hopi Observer, two members of the Navajo Nation, Dineh Benally and Farley BlueEyes, have been formally charged with the illegal cultivation of marijuana. This case, unfolding in Window Rock, Arizona, marks a significant development in an ongoing legal saga that has spanned several years and included accusations of forced labor. On January 4th, tribal prosecutors accused the pair of operating a large marijuana growing operation around Shiprock, New Mexico. Both men are expected to face arraignment later this month, according to the report.
Dineh Benally, a Navajo businessman, had previously faced charges in 2020 for interfering with judicial proceedings. These charges stemmed from a Navajo judge’s order to stop the marijuana farms’ operations in northwestern New Mexico. Benally’s attorney, David Jordan, claimed the interference charges were dismissed in December as the case approached trial. In a statement to the paper, Jordan described the latest charges as harassment and said that Benally insists he was growing hemp, not marijuana.
The controversy first gained public attention in 2020 when local authorities discovered Chinese immigrant workers trimming marijuana in motel rooms near Shiprock. This discovery led to raids by federal, state, and tribal authorities, resulting in the destruction of a quarter-million plants. A group of Chinese immigrant workers has since sued Benally and his associates, alleging they were forced to work long hours trimming cannabis and were lured to New Mexico under false pretenses, according to the report.
Additionally, Benally’s license for another growing operation in central New Mexico was recently revoked by New Mexico regulators due to multiple violations, including the cultivation of far more plants than the license permitted. Benally’s case is particularly noteworthy due to his past as a Navajo Nation presidential candidate who advocated for large-scale hemp farming as an economic opportunity, and who reportedly campaigned under the slogan, “Let’s grow together.”