A federal raid on a household marijuana garden on tribal land in northern New Mexico is sowing uncertainty and resentment about U.S. drug enforcement priorities on Native American reservations, as more states roll out legal marketplaces for recreational pot sales.
In late September, Bureau of Indian Affairs officers confiscated nine cannabis plants from a home garden at Picuris Pueblo that was tended by Charles Farden, a local resident since childhood who is not Native American. The 54-year-old is enrolled in the state’s medical marijuana program to ease post-traumatic stress and anxiety.
Farden said he was startled to be placed in handcuffs as federal officers seized mature plants laden with buds — an estimated year long personal supply.
New Mexico first approved the drug’s medical use in 2007, while Picuris Pueblo decriminalized medical pot for members in 2015. A new state law in June broadly legalized marijuana for adults and authorized up to a dozen home-grown plants per household for personal use — with no weight limit.
The raid has cast a shadow over cannabis as an economic development opportunity for Indigenous communities, as tribal governments at Picuris Pueblo and at least one other reservation pursue agreements with New Mexico that would allow them to open marijuana businesses. The state is home to 23 federally recognized Native American communities. It's aiming to launch retail pot sales by April.
More than two-thirds of states have legalized marijuana in some form, including four that approved recreational pot in the 2020 election and four more by legislation this year. The U.S. government has avoided cracking down on them, even though the drug remains illegal under federal law to possess, use or sell. Across the U.S., tribal enterprises have taken a variety of approaches as they straddle state and federal law and jurisdictional issues to gain a foothold in the cannabis industry.
The U.S. government recognizes an “inherent and inalienable" right to self-governance by Native American tribes. But federal law enforcement agencies still selectively intervene to enforce cannabis prohibition. “We as a tribe can end up investing a million dollars into a project, thinking it’s OK. And because of a rogue officer or somebody that doesn’t believe something is right, it could be stopped,” he said.