Legalizing hemp on the Navajo Nation could be good for business, but would marijuana follow?

Field of hemp

By Arlyssa D. Becenti | Arizona Republic

Shaylee Vandever and her brother Ira Vandever are working to try decriminalize hemp on the Navajo Nation so they can cultivate it for business ventures.

Ira Vandever recognizes benefits of hemp cultivation. He wants to mix wool from the churro sheep with hemp to weave into beautiful Navajo rugs. He has plans to make hemp into paper. And he sees it as a viable tool to help clean up the over 500 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation, starting at his community of Haystack, New Mexico, where uranium mining on Navajo began. 

There is one huge obstacle: Hemp, like cannabis and alcohol, is illegal on the Navajo Nation.

But Vandever says he won’t let that stop him from attempting to use hemp in ways he sees as advantageous for the Navajo people, while also working toward changing the law on the Navajo Nation to allow hemp cultivation. 

“It’s a whole economy they rejected and criminalized,” said Vandever of Navajo leadership. “So we teamed up with some people to write the code to say this is how hemp should be decriminalized.”

Outdoor escapes and unforgettable sights await

Vandever has dabbled in different careers, working with Tsehootsoi Medical Center, owning a restaurant in Ramah, N.M., and at one point opening a small coffee shop inside the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock. Now his efforts are going toward hemp cultivation and production. 

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