An Indigenous man is suing the federal government for $3.5 million for raiding his medical cannabis garden, which was located on sovereign tribal land.
Last September, the US Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) raided the home of Charles Farden, a member of the Picuris Pueblo tribe in New Mexico. The feds conducted this raid with the sole intent of seizing and destroying nine cannabis plants that the man was growing in his garden. Farden, who is diabetic, is registered with New Mexico's medical marijuana program, however, and had a permit allowing him to legally grow his medicine at home.
But although Farden was fully compliant with both state and tribal cannabis laws, he was still violating federal law, which continues to classify cannabis as a dangerous drug with no medical use. BIA agents raided his home, ripped his plants out of the ground, and burned them. And while the cops destroyed his plants, Farden was left out in the burning desert sun, handcuffed and without access to food, water, or diabetes medicine.
This September, Farden filed a tort claim notice indicating that he was planning to sue the feds over the discriminatory raid. “By unlawfully cutting down and burning Mr. Farden’s medical cannabis plants, the federal law enforcement officers in this case committed an act that is tantamount to these same officers unlawfully entering into Mr. Farden’s home, without a warrant, going into his medicine cabinet and flushing his prescription diabetes medication down the toilet,” the document states, according to Santa Fe New Mexican.
The lawsuit argues that the raid is a clear example of the federal government's racially-discriminatory cannabis enforcement policies. For nearly a decade now, Congress has approved a budget rider that specifically blocks the US Department of Justice from using federal funding to raid or prosecute state-legal medical marijuana users or businesses. The BIA is under the oversight of the US Department of the Interior, though, and the rider does not apply to this agency. This loophole has allowed the feds to continue raiding and arresting Native Americans for weed, despite Congress' clear intent to protect medical cannabis patients.
“One of the driving factors why the damages are so high in this case, we contend, is also how patently racist the Department of Interior’s enforcement of federal drug policy is,” said Jacob Candelaria, a New Mexico state Senator and independent attorney who is representing Farden in this case. “If you’re a non-Native person engaging in the same conduct Mr. Farden did on non-Native land, your chance of federal prosecution and conviction is next to zero because Congress has prevented the Department of Justice from using any money to enforce the law.”
And while the ongoing prohibition of cannabis may allow the feds to dodge this claim, the BIA agents also allegedly violated his constitutional rights as well. The lawsuit says that the feds entered Farden's home without a search warrant, a clear violation of state and federal law. A police report claims that Farden signed a “consent to search document,” but Farden said that he didn’t sign it, and the feds have been unable to prove that he did.
“These officers didn’t have a warrant to enter or search, let alone seize, property,” Candelaria told Santa Fe New Mexican. “These officers actually violated … BIA policy, which is very clear that when BIA officers are to enforce the Controlled Substances Act, they need to preserve, catalog and create a chain of custody for all evidence. Here, these officers barged into my client’s property, placed him in handcuffs and had him out in the sun for multiple hours.”
“For Indigenous persons on indigenous lands, there’s this huge risk and desire to criminalize, but on non-Native lands, the federal government has taken a completely hands-off approach,” the attorney added. “In Mr. Farden’s view and in my view, this is a fundamental example of racialized enforcement of drug policy. I think the Interior Department and [Secretary Deb Haaland], quite honestly, need to explain why the Department of Interior has chosen to take a much different approach than the Department of Justice and, in doing so, deny my client his right to medical care, to medicine.”