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Raid on Tribal Land Raises Legal Questions

Bureau of Indian Affairs officers iconfiscated nine cannabis plants from a home garden.




A federal raid seizing cannabis on tribal land in New Mexico has raised questions about drug enforcement policies on Native American reservations in states where medical or recreational cannabis is legal.

Bureau of Indian Affairs officers in November confiscated nine cannabis plants from the Picuris Pueblo home garden of a non-Native resident, the Associated Press reported.

The resident of the reservation was enrolled in the state’s medical marijuana program at the Picuris Pueblo reservation in late September, according to the AP.

The tribal government at Picuris Pueblo—and at least one other reservation in Mexico—has been pursuing agreements with New Mexico for several years to open marijuana businesses. But the recent raid raises questions about the federal law enforcement position on the issue.

In 2018, federal officials raided a small-scale cannabis operation in Picuris Pueblo, uprooting and destroying 36 marijuana plants. That operation was described at the time by the pueblo tribal governor as a “test run” for larger scale cannabis cultivation ventures, according to media reports.

Use of medical and recreational cannabis is legal in New Mexico and people can grow plants for personal use. The state aims to make sales of recreational cannabis legal in April 2022.


New Mexico approved medical cannabis in 2007. Picuris Pueblo decriminalized it for enrolled tribal members for medical purposes 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.

A BIA special agent told Picarus Pueblo Tribal Gov. Craig Quanchello in a letter obtained by the AP that possession and cultivation of cannabis on the reservation remains a federal offense regardless of changes to state and local tribal law.

New Mexico is home to 23 Native American communities that fall under federal jurisdiction.

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