Picuris Pueblo man prepares to sue

Picuris Pueblo man prepares to sue after Indian Affairs agents destroyed cannabis

Originally published in the Santa Fe New Mexican on September 17, 2022

by Daniel J. Chacón

A Picuris Pueblo man whose medical marijuana plants were confiscated and destroyed by officers with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs three years ago is seeking $3.5 million in damages from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Charles Farden filed a tort claim notice, or a notice of intent to sue, with the federal agency earlier this month, alleging violations of his federal and state constitutional rights.

“By unlawfully cutting down and burning Mr. Farden’s medical cannabis plants,” the document states, “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 federal agency’s Indian Affairs Department declined to comment.

“We do not comment on issues regarding ongoing litigation,” a spokesman for the agency wrote in an email Friday.

Albuquerque attorney Jacob Candelaria, an independent state senator who is representing Farden in the case, said the three BIA agents entered Farden’s property without a search warrant.

“They proceeded to cut down and then burn and destroy nine medical cannabis plants that Mr. Farden was growing,” Candelaria said. “At that time, he had his New Mexico cannabis card, and he also had a personal production license.”

A police report on the incident states Farden signed a “consent to search document,” which Candelaria said isn’t true.

His office filed a Freedom of Information Act request, which didn’t produce such a document.

“Our point is, that’s because it never existed,” he said.

“These officers didn’t have a warrant to enter or search, let alone seize, property,” they attorney said. “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, catalogue 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.”

Farden is diabetic and didn’t have access to food or water while he was handcuffed, Candelaria said. The tort claim states he “has for several years cultivated and used medical cannabis to treat several disabling conditions, including post traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain, in full compliance with New Mexico state law as well as the laws and traditions of the Pueblo of Picuris.”

“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,” Candelaria said. “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.”

Farden told police the marijuana was for medicinal purposes and only for his personal use. Farden, who told police he followed the state’s regulations for production and was compliant, asked officers what authority they had to seize the marijuana plants.

“I explained to [Farden] several times the violations of manufacturing marijuana within federal jurisdictions,” one of the officers wrote in the report.

An unidentified pueblo employee who arrived at the scene told the officers tribal Gov. Craig Quanchello had given Farden permission to cultivate the plants within the pueblo. Picuris Pueblo decriminalized medical marijuana for members in 2015.

“I provided the information of the manufacturing of marijuana within federal jurisdictions to be a federal violation,” the officer wrote in the report.

After the officers cut down Farden’s plants, they “buried” them in Nambe Pueblo after receiving permission from the governor there, the report states. Samples of three plants were “secured as evidence,” the report states.

Farden could not be reached for comment, but he told the Associated Press last year he was startled to be placed in handcuffs as officers seized mature plants laden with buds.

“I was just open with the officer, straightforward,” Farden said of the encounter with police.

“When he asked what I was growing, I said, ‘My vegetables, my medical cannabis.’ And he was like, ‘That can be a problem.’ ”

The tort claim asserts the federal government enforces federal drug laws “in a racially discriminatory way.”

“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,” Candelaria said. “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.”

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