FBI raid of Navajo Nation destroys 250,000 illegal cannabis plants posed as hemp

A three-day FBI raid of 21 farms in the Shiprock area of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico destroyed more than a quarter-million marijuana plants that were allegedly grown illegally as unlicensed hemp.

The raids by U.S., state and tribal law enforcement authorities started on Nov. 9 and involved more than 1,100 makeshift greenhouses, according to a news release from federal prosecutors. The operation was part of an ongoing issue with illegal grows set up on the tribal nation’s lands.

Last month, the Navajo Nation sued nearly three dozen people, accusing them of violating sovereign law by illegally growing hemp and marijuana on the reservation. The lawsuit – the second filed this year by the tribe’s Department of Justice – claimed that the operations are contaminating the tribe’s water, land and other natural resources.

The first lawsuit accused tribal member and president of a local farm Board, Dineh Benally, of growing hemp on tribal land without permission. The tribal nation shut down most of the farms connected with Benally.

The 2018 Farm Bill allows tribes to oversee hemp production if they wish, but the Navajo Nation is not among the 40-plus tribes that have approved plans to do so, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The tribe does not have a regulatory system for industrial hemp on the reservation, which spans parts of Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.

The Navajo investigation underscores the concern among some American Indian tribal leaders that reservations could become dumping grounds for unscrupulous operators who may try to hide illicit marijuana grows.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.