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SAT: Cautious tribal communities prepare for New Mexico's cannabis market, Albuquerque home standoff ends in an arrest, + More

Marijuana at a medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana.
Marijuana at a medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana.

Warily, tribes prepare for cannabis ventures in New MexicoBy Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Two tribal communities have been reassured they'll be able to take part in New Mexico's marijuana market opening in April without the threat of federal law enforcement interference on tribal land, according to agreements with state cannabis regulators signed on Friday.

The agreements outline plans for cooperative oversight of cannabis production and sales in the Picuris and Pojoaque pueblos, laying the groundwork for opening the industry in Indian Country in a state with 23 federally recognized Native American tribes. It's not clear how many other tribes may get involved amid mixed feelings about legalization.

There has been uncertainty about U.S. drug enforcement priorities after enforcement actions on reservations. Officials raided a household marijuana garden at Picuris Pueblo in northern New Mexico in September 2021, months after legalization went into effect.

Across the U.S., tribal enterprises have taken a variety of approaches as they straddle state and federal law, and jurisdictional issues, to gain a foothold in the cannabis industry.

In Washington, the Suquamish Tribe forged a pioneering role under a 2015 compact with the state to open a retail marijuana outlet across Puget Sound from Seattle on the Port Madison reservation. It sells cannabis from dozens of independent producers.

Several Nevada tribes operate their own enforcement division to help ensure compliance with state- and tribal-authorized marijuana programs, including a registry for home-grown medical marijuana. Taxes collected at tribal dispensaries there stay with tribes and go toward community improvement programs.

In New Mexico, widespread sales for recreational marijuana are set to begin April 1 to adults 21 and older under legislation signed a year ago by Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Lawmakers hope to spur new employment and reverse harm inflicted disproportionally on racial and ethnic minorities by past drug criminalization.

In a statement, Picuris Gov. Craig Cuanchello described Friday's agreement with the state as a "collaborative effort to maintain a robust regulatory environment for cannabis," also describing "an exciting new opportunity to diversify our economic development."

"Revenues from a Pueblo cannabis enterprise will support tribal governmental programs and the surrounding community," he said in the statement.

Arrangements for excise taxes on cannabis sales on tribal land were unclear and may be addressed in separate agreements. New Mexico plans to levy an initial 12% tax on recreational cannabis sales in addition to standard taxes on sales.

The new pact acknowledges that the U.S. Controlled Substances Act continues to criminalize marijuana, while outlining a commitment to a local regulatory system that prevents access to marijuana by young people, impaired driving, financial support for criminal networks, adverse health effects or interstate cannabis trafficking.

Tribes will maintain their own cannabis regulations in close consultation with the state — though state rules apply to cannabis testing, packaging and labeling.

In 2018, federal law enforcement authorities uprooted about 35 cannabis plants grown by the Picuris Pueblo in a foray into medical marijuana cultivation. New Mexico authorized medical marijuana sales starting in 2007.

Tribal enterprises at Picuris Pueblo, a remote community of fewer than 300 residents, include a newly opened fuel station and mini-grocery. Pojoque Pueblo by comparison has robust business holdings that include a golf course and major hotel and convention center, which doubled as a pandemic isolation unit for Indian Country during the onset of COVID-19.

The marijuana raid by the Bureau of Indian Affairs last year confiscated nine cannabis plants from a home garden at Picuris Pueblo that was tended by Charles Farden, a resident since childhood, who is not Native American.

The 54-year-old is enrolled in the state's medical marijuana program to ease post-traumatic stress and anxiety and New Mexico allows up to a dozen home-grown marijuana plants per household for personal use.

Contacted Friday, Farden said the raid still aggravates his anxiety and depression, and also makes it harder to afford medical cannabis.

"I haven't even really slept a full night since it happened," he said.

Officials with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and its parent agency, the Interior Department, have repeatedly declined to comment on the raid and its implications.

In late 2020, a combination of state, federal and tribal law enforcement cooperated in a raid on sprawling marijuana farms with makeshift greenhouses in northwestern New Mexico, with the consent of the Navajo Nation president. Authorities seized more than 200,000 plants.

At the time, New Mexico limited marijuana cultivation to 1,750 plants per licensed medical cannabis producer. The limit is now 25,000 plants.

Standoff with man in aunt's Albuquerque home ends in arrestAssociated Press

A relative of former state Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton who barricaded himself in her home has been arrested after an hours-long standoff ended by a police dog, authorities said Friday.

David Hendrickson was likely to have suffered some injuries because the dog apprehended him, Albuquerque police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said in a text message.

Williams Stapleton called mental health services Friday morning to report that a family member needed help, Gallegos said. Albuquerque police were called in to try and arrest him over a felony warrant.

"And at that point, he refused to come out of the house," Gallegos said.

Gallegos said Williams Stapleton was able to leave the house safely.

Hendrickson is William Stapleton's nephew, who she "raised like a son," according to her attorney, Ahmed Assed.

Assed said Hendrickson had been homeless and struggling with mental health issues. In addition to calling mental health services, Williams Stapleton also called pretrial services because of an issue with her nephew's ankle monitor; he was on supervised release in an assault.

Separately, Williams Stapleton, a Democrat, faces criminal charges stemming from a corruption probe involving some $5 million that she has denied using to enrich herself when she was an official at Albuquerque Public Schools. Assed said he is defending her in court in the coming months.

Attempts to reach the public defender's office, which is representing Hendrickson, were unsuccessful.

Nevada National Guard learned key lessons from COVID fightBy Scott Sonner, Associated Press

Nevada's National Guard leaders say they learned some valuable lessons from the more than 700 days guardsmen and women were activated to help combat COVID-19 — its largest and longest state activation ever in response to a domestic emergency.

"What haven't we learned is a better question," said Col. Brett Compston, who served as Nevada's incident commander at the Division of Emergency Management and helped oversee the more than 1,400 troops who assisted in the effort over two years.

Among other things, Compston said the pandemic gave them new insight into ways to better integrate their operations with other state agencies and work hand-in-hand with local governments and organizations during a crisis. He told reporters this week he's confident the experience will make them better prepared to deal with future crises.

"This is probably the greatest crisis we have faced in the last 100 years other than World War II, if you exclude the current world situation," Compston said. "In normal times, we would put on a crew of four or five and we'd go fight a fire and that was relatively easy."

Nationally, more than 30,000 National Guard troops were activated to help fight COVID-19, initially primarily to help administer tests and later vaccinations as their involvement eventually grew to include a variety of tasks.

In New Mexico, they served as substitute teachers. They administered medications at Colorado hospitals, transported patients in Maryland and helped manufacture more than 2 million personal protective equipment items in Texas.

In Nevada, they directly administered more than 833,000 tests and 819,000 vaccinations, while offering support for a total of 2.5 million tests and 2.9 million vaccinations. Other missions included contact tracing, traffic control, meal delivery, laboratory support, warehousing and distribution of protective equipment.

The work was in addition to conducting seven federal deployments overseas, 1st Lt. Emerson Marcus said. It also included a summer of civil unrest and racial protests that involved the Guard protecting government buildings in Reno and Las Vegas and assisting in protection of the U.S. Capitol last year, he said.

"The National Guard has never been busier or more visible than it has the past two years," Marcus said.

The activation to fight COVID-19 "fundamentally changed much of the Nevada Guard's role in the state," he said.

Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered a reorganization of the Division of Emergency Management and Health and Human Services to fall under the Nevada Office of the Military during the early months of the pandemic. Last year, the Legislature made the move permanent.

"We've really become a part of the interagency team," Compston said. "That integration piece is really one the things we really can't lose. It just has to become part of the ways we do business moving forward."

Above all, he said the experience reinforced the fact that Guard members are "citizen soldiers."

"They are your doctors, your police officers," Compston said. "It's one of the great things about the Guard, you get to use the military skill set that was given to you for really a war-fighting mission. You get to apply that in your own community to help others."

Even with the heavier workload that came with the pandemic, Compston said there were still more than enough volunteers willing to help.

"What we've learned is people step up when the call comes," he said. "Every Guard member that was asked to step up did step up."

US agency extends comment period on Chaco proposalAssociated Press

Land managers have scheduled two more public meetings and extended the comment period on a proposal that would prohibit oil and gas development on federal land surrounding a national park in New Mexico that Native American tribes consider culturally significant.

The Bureau of Land Management made the announcement Friday, saying the deadline for comments has been pushed back to May 6 to allow more time for people to comment.

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland traveled to northwest New Mexico in November to announce the plan. She cited the significance of the area to many tribes from the Southwest that trace their roots to the high desert outpost.

A World Heritage site, Chaco is thought to be the center of what was once a hub of Indigenous civilization.

Officials with the New Mexico pueblos and Arizona tribes that are connected to Chaco have said they believe Haaland's actions represent more meaningful steps by the federal government to permanently protect cultural resources in northwestern New Mexico.

The Navajo Nation is among the Native American tribes that support increased protections, but top tribal officials have called for a smaller area around Chaco to be set aside as a way to limit the economic impact on families who rely on revenues from oil and gas leasing.

Many who attended the first public meetings in February had asked that federal officials provide translators and materials in Native languages to ensure those who will be affected by the decision have access to information about the proposal.

Federal officials confirmed Friday that a Navajo translator would be available at the upcoming meetings. One will be April 27 in Farmington and the other is scheduled for April 29 in Albuquerque.

Hispanic vaccination rates remain low in Idaho, ColoradoMadelyn Beck, Boise State Public Radio News

42% in Idaho and Colorado: tying for the second lowest rate in the country, above only South Dakota.

This doesn’t surprise Sam Byrd, director of the Center for Community and Justice in Idaho.

He said hesitancy and access have long been challenges when vaccinating his community. Even in the 60s, he said “if it hadn’t been for the schools requiring (vaccinations), I’m pretty sure our parents wouldn’t do it … so it’s not new.”

But Byrd said monetary incentives have worked to increase vaccinations in Idaho, and his organization will continue its efforts.

“Staff have been out to dairies. We’ve been out, you know. We’re mobile. We’re not going to wait. We go to where they are, knowing that that level of hesitancy exists,” he said.

There are also continued national efforts through groups like Hispanic Access Foundation, which is working with faith leaders in places like Las Vegas and Denver. They want to provide easy access to both vaccines and vaccine information. That means providing that information in both Spanish and English, so people don’t have to rely on social media to make their own health decisions.

“A lot of first and second-generation Latinos get our information off of social media, and not reputable social media sites,” said David Armijo, chief of programs for the foundation. “They’re trusting that, ‘Oh, my cousin posted it, my uncle posted it, it must be true.’”

Armijo added that some of the vaccine hesitancy comes from a distrust of their previous governments.

“A lot of immigrants that come to our country, come to our country because of a mistrust in their government. So just because they arrive here and they’re here for the American dream doesn’t mean they’re going to trust the government. And when the government is making mandates, it gets scary,” he said.

Armijo said that while mask mandates disappear and national news turns to international turmoil in Ukraine, people are still being infected by, and dying from, COVID-19.

“There’s so much other news media going on that this has kind of fallen to the background, but it doesn’t mean that it’s gone. It just means we’re not talking about it,” he said.

The national rate for Hispanic vaccinations is 64%, slightly higher than for whites.

Other Hispanic vaccination rates that the Kaiser Family Foundation listed in the Mountain West include: 66% in New Mexico, 61% in Utah, and 59% in Nevada. Wyoming and Montana were not included in the analysis.