By Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2020

FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) - A Navajo Nation judge is halting operations at nine hemp farms in northwestern New Mexico as part of a legal fight between a businessman and the tribe’s Department of Justice.

The judge issued a preliminary injunction against Dineh Benally and two of his businesses following a hearing Friday, the Farmington Daily Times reported.

The tribe sued Benally and the companies in June, alleging that he was illegally issuing permits for foreign entities to cultivate and grow industrial hemp on tribal land near Shiprock. Tribal prosecutors had asked that the court issue a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction so that work at the farms would be put on hold while the complaint is litigated.

Oliver Whaley, head of the tribe’s Environmental Protection Agency, testified Thursday that there were no licenses issued for operations including the use of septic tanks, a cesspool and possible use of large water hauling tanks to store gasoline for generators. He also claimed there were violations of the safe water drinking act.

Some residents complained about hemp farm operations damaging corn and alfalfa crops, along with the odor of the hemp affecting their personal health.

Dave Jordan, Benally’s attorney, was set to have five witnesses testify - including Benally - when the hearing resumed Friday morning. However, no witnesses were called.

Jordan told the court during closing arguments that it would be devastating to Benally if the crops were lost due to the preliminary injunction. He also said hemp farms were not harming the community and blamed protesters for instigating incidents that included alleged arson.

In June, Navajo authorities began warning people against illegally growing marijuana and hemp. Tribal police issued the initial warning after confirming that officers were investigating complaints about marijuana or hemp being grown near Shiprock.

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