While the Navajo Nation Council was debating the merits of hemp production last year, a coalition of private and public entities was quietly doing it.
“Right now we have more than three million plants on 300 acres on the Navajo Nation,” said Karen Elsworth with the Native American Agriculture Company, which she said has been given exclusive rights by the Navajo Nation government to oversee the licensing, cultivation and processing of cannabis on the reservation.
The company plans to open a dispensary Oct. 5 in conjunction with the Northern Navajo Fair. It’s located at the intersection of New Mexico Highways 491 and 64.
Just to be clear, this is not marijuana we’re talking about. It’s hemp, a close relative with less than three percent of the psychoactive ingredient THC. So why would anyone want to buy it? Hemp contains cannabidiol, or CBD — a compound that has been credited with relieving everything from epileptic seizures to sleeplessness (in spite of scant scientific evidence for most of the claims).
Eventually, the Navajo Nation will have its own CBD brand, Navajo Gold, but for now, “we’ll be selling white-label products from other distributers,” said Ellsworth, who’s in charge of marketing and communications for the company. “This is sort of like a little test to see if the demand is there.”
Based on sales in the rest of the country, the demand will be there. Americans spent $190 million on CBD products in 2017, and that was even before the 2018 Farm Bill deregulated it. Eventually, NAAC would like to lease 10,000 acres from the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry to grow hemp, but for now the company, which is headed by former Navajo Nation presidential candidate and current candidate for Congress Dineh Benally, has enlisted 29 Navajo farmers to grow test plots.