Navajo Tribe Signs Its First Hemp Growing Contract
The Navajo have signed their first contract to grow industrial hemp from the cannabis plant.The tribe has signed a memorandum of understanding with CannaNative to begin growing a hemp crop.
The Navajo took steps to amend their tribal law back in July 2000 to prepare for this when they decided that industrial hemp was an acceptable crop. The tribe has already taken steps to establish agricultural commerce in 70,000 acre farm. They would add to that farm with an industrial hemp cash crop with CannaNative’s assistance.
“I believe that the Indian cannabis industry will far surpass the Indian gaming industry,” said CannaNative chief executive officer Anthony Rivera. While gaming has been lucrative, it hasn’t benefited all tribes and casino growth numbers are slowing. The Indian community sees industrial hemp as a revenue source that will level the play field for all tribes.
The global hemp market is already an $800 million market that could grow into the billions according to the Global Hemp Group. Some in the marijuana community believe the hemp market will be much larger than even the recreational marijuana market.
Rivera feels that the Navajo are being cautious and careful about entering the cannabis-related industry. Other tribes quickly jumped into cannabis in 2014 following what was known as the Wilkinson Statement. This letter followed the Cole Memorandum and seemed to give tribes a green light on cannabis, but the Native Americans quickly found out that the Department of Justice wasn’t necessarily on board with the letter.
In 2015, there was a raid on the Menominee Indians in Wisconsin of 30,000 cannabis plants that were supposed to only be hemp plants. A test of the plants determined too much THC and that resulted in the confiscation. Lawsuits were filed and the federal government won with the judge stating that since Wisconsin had not legalized marijuana of any sort, then the tribes couldn’t grow it.
Rivera said they will be working closely with the commerce and agricultural divisions of the Navajo tribe. The tribe spans over the states of New Mexico, Utah and Arizona, but the farm is in New Mexico. They plan to test the first crop there. They also expect strong negotiations with the federal government and state of New Mexico.
New Mexico currently doesn’t allow the growing of hemp plants. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, at least 27 states have enacted some sort of law regarding industrial hemp production since 2014, when federal legislation allowed states to enact such laws, but New Mexico isn’t one of them.
In April 2015, New Mexico Governor Susanna Martinez vetoed hemp legislation saying she rejected the proposal because she saw contradictions between federal and state law, namely that hemp still contains THC, the psychoactive substance in marijuana.
“This and other conflicts between state and federal law would unnecessarily complicate the task of law enforcement and the state Department of Agriculture of regulating the production of hemp,” Martinez wrote. “And, given the similarities between growing hemp and marijuana, this legislation could also create serious challenges for law enforcement in investigating drug crimes.”
Rivera believes the Navajo Nation’s strong relationship with the government will help smooth the way. It population is over 300,000 and the tribal lands are larger than 10 of the country’s 50 states. It is the second largest federally recognized tribe with the Cherokees being the largest. Unfortunately, 48% of their population is unemployed and the average household income is $8,240 well below the poverty line – further driving the need for something to help them.
The hemp crop would use less water than some of the current crops on the farm land like corn. Since commodity prices for food has been lowered, hemp would give a better yield for their crops. For example, corn prices in July were $7.80 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade and December contracts have plunged to $3.85. It costs an Illinois farmer $4.02 to produce a bushel of corn.
The Navajo foresee many uses of hemp for industrial purposes beyond ropes and tarps. They have their eyes on hemp oil and construction materials.
“We are striving for the first, if not the largest hemp crop in the country,” said Rivera. “We want to bring back cultivation, but on an Indian reservation.” They hope to harvest by next season if all goes according to plan.