This story reads like an episode of Narcos, the TV series about the rise and fall of a Colombian narcotics baron. Except this time around it takes place on Navajo land in northwest New Mexico, adjacent to the Arizona border. The featured player is a tribal bureaucrat with an unlikely job title: President of the Farm Board. Somehow this individual contrived to approve the establishment of 36 industrial-quality black market cannabis farms on property that had been dedicated to raising Native corn for traditional ceremonies. The organizers even managed to import Chinese immigrants from as far away as Los Angeles and New York City to man the farms, believing they would be involved in ordinary agriculture.
Forgot to mention that it was, you know, against the law.
It’s complicated. Here’s one of several long articles that appeared in the aftermath of the emerging scandal:
Illegal Marijuana Grows Still Operating on Navajo Land, Despite Court Order
It’s possible the black market entrepreneurs assumed that because Navajo territory doesn’t fall under US jurisdiction, they’d be safe. For a while at least. And they were. Federal and local law enforcement have been reduced to patrolling tribal boundaries, arresting any stray employee who wanders off the property.
So far that’s meant those Chinese immigrants, who often lack English to understand the charges against them. Interpreters are in short supply.
Authorities admit the arrests haven’t had much impact. Even a big score such as the recent haul involving a full ton of marijuana was described by the County sheriff as “… only a fraction, maybe 25 percent of what they’re growing in a single greenhouse on the reservation.” That’s not going to do the trick.
Tribal government has also struggled unsuccessfully to control the cannabis traffic. Now they’re fretting over the emergence of citizen-led vigilante groups that oppose misuse of traditional land for what amounts to a criminal enterprise.
You can almost feel the clock ticking on this particular “smash-‘n’grab” business venture. I’m guessing the traffickers themselves are surprised to have gotten away with it as long as they did. Given the vast sums involved– probably in the billions, once the final tally is made — this could wind up in court cases at the Federal, State and Tribal levels.
It’ll be interesting to see how they resolve jurisdictional issues.
As an aside: the results of the recent State elections will surely lead to a renewed push to legalize recreational marijuana. After all, oil and gas revenues are seriously off due to price competition between Russia and Saudi Arabia. Tourism, another major source of tax revenue, has been a casualty of the pandemic. Those realities should tip the balance in the Legislature.
I doubt legalization will put an end to illicit pot production and sales– it hasn’t elsewhere, even after several years under the new law, and with continual urging from the legitimate cannabis producers. Black marketeers are a hardy breed, and they can always price-undercut the competition.
Like coronavirus — they adapt to survive.