cannabis
Credit: Sonya Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance

In September Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) officers raided the home of Charles Farden, a 54-year-old non-Native resident of Picuris Pueblo and the husband of a tribal member. They were there to confiscate the New Mexico Medical Cannabis patient’s personal cannabis plants—even though he wasn’t breaking any tribal or state laws. We spoke to Picuris Pueblo Gov. Craig Quanchello about the raid and what it means for the tribe.

The Paper.: Did Farden break any tribal laws by growing cannabis in his home?

Quanchello: No, because in 2016 we, as a tribe, created an ordinance which decriminalized cannabis, and we created our own medical cannabis code, and we issued members our cards. In addition to that, we have reciprocity, which allows for other medical cannabis cards to be used—we recognize the state of New Mexico’s medical cannabis card. So there was no violations with us. All that we asked was that, in addition to the state rules, we follow the Cole Memorandum from the feds under the Department of Justice.

It’s been reported that the tribe is looking to open cannabis business on the tribal land. Is that accurate?

Yes. We did initially do a grow in 2016 or 2017. We started a grow here at the pueblo and we got raided by BIA and DDE [Division of Drug Enforcement]. We had roughly about 16 plants, and they raided us at that time. We changed our ordinance. We decriminalized cannabis, and we had our own qualifying conditions—we added on veterans and opiate disorders to our qualifying conditions. We began our grow at that point in 2016, and on November 30, 2017, we got raided by BIA and DDE. At that time, Obama was transitioning over to Trump and [former Attorney General] Sessions.

The state attorney came in and didn’t like it at all. He threatened to prosecute us to the fullest extent of the law and took our plants. The U.S. attorney asked if we had any kind of agreement with the state. And at that point, we didn’t have any kind of written agreement.

So that’s why we’ve been working on an intergovernmental agreement with the state. And this last session, through the New Mexico legislation, we passed a bill allowing tribes to get into an intergovernmental agreement with the state regarding cannabis. We want to move forward with our cannabis. Based off of what the U.S. attorney said and their guidance, we’ve been working on this intergovernmental agreement. But now we have a new acting U.S. attorney who’s totally against it again.

In the meantime we did change our law, and Charlie is a card holder in New Mexico, and he is married to one of our tribal members who is from Picuris Pueblo.

I don’t know if this is coming out of the U.S. Attorney’s Office or BIA—which is our law enforcement. A lot of the other tribes have their own tribal police, but we are the smallest tribe in Mexico, and we have limited funds. We’re in a rural area of New Mexico, at about 7,800 feet in elevation and about 45 minutes from the nearest hospital. We don’t have our own police. Our law enforcement is the BIA, and they work for us. In this case, when they raided Charlie, we weren’t aware of it. We didn’t have any idea what was going on. And normally when we have incidents here at the pueblo, our chief of police at the BIA usually gives the governor and council a heads up—people who know what’s going on within our boundaries. That just didn’t happen this time. When I called the chief and asked him what happened, he had no idea what was going on. That was a red flag to me.

I don’t know if this was under the guidance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office or the BIA or a rogue officer doing whatever they want to do within our boundaries.

Is it safe to say that the tribe doesn’t want the BIA coming in and enforcing federal cannabis laws?

One hundred percent correct. The BIA enforces our pueblo laws, and we do recognize that it is illegal on federal land; however, you have a lot of other tribes like in Nevada, Washington, California—all of these tribes are engaging in full-blown operations. There’s 16 dispensaries that were just opened up in Washington, there’s a 24/7 drive-thru cannabis dispensary in Nevada, and we are trying to figure out under what criteria the U.S. attorney in those states and BIA law enforcement in those states are allowing them to engage in full-blown operations, and here they are picking on one of our tribal members who’s married to a non-tribal resident who went through our tribal process.

To this day we haven’t gotten an incident report. We haven’t got anything in writing stating what occurred there, what the process was, any chain of custody—anything. We get weekly reports, and that has never been addressed or acknowledged on any of the reports.

Our attorneys did draft a letter to the regional office, and we did get a letter stating that they can’t tell their officers not to enforce federal law.

This new acting U.S. attorney in New Mexico made it clear that it won’t be tolerated—that it’s not acceptable under his watch. Hopefully we get a new U.S. attorney and get some guidance from the Department of Justice so that we can move forward. I’d like to be clearly given details on how all those other dispensaries’ growers are allowed to do what they do while we are getting discriminated against. That’s not fair. I’m looking for equality across tribes.