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New Mexico’s The Vado de Juan Paiz Ditch Association Writes Opinion Piece About Water Rights & Sustainability & Cannabis In Albuquerque Journal

Now it looks like legislation for cannabis is to go through in the state we believe are quite right to bring up this issue immediately. It is a desert state and cannabis badly managed could have a devastating effect of the local food economy.

 The legalization of cannabis growing in our state could bring devastating effects on our rural areas already riddled with problems.

Cannabis should be explored as potential boosts for our local agriculture and economy, but legislators should not be short-sighted and blinded by quick tax money and instead (should) think wisely with seven generations in mind.

In New Mexico, it is legal to sell water rights attached to a property, resulting in farmland being retired. No more water is available for that piece of land in the future. Somebody can buy water rights and transfer them to a well, or pump water from a river for commercial use. If a neighbor files a protest claiming impairment of their water rights, the defendant is allowed to keep pumping water until the case is addressed and resolved, and it can take a year, or many more, for a resolution to occur.

Defending traditional irrigation water rights from impairment is a costly undertaking, draining our local acequias’ financial and human resources. The Office of the State Engineer, which regulates water rights in New Mexico, already has its plate full of litigations, stemming from protests of individuals or acequias, whose water rights are being impaired by water rights transfers and illegal use.

Developers, billionaires setting up hunting lodges and out-of-state commercial cannabis growers have unlimited financial resources to hire attorneys to defend, or prolong, their cases. Traditional water rights farmers are currently engaged in a war of attrition against commercial interests with a lot of financial resources and absolutely no respect for traditional culture.

Unless local acequias write it in their bylaws, that water rights cannot be separated from the land, this practice is further deteriorating an agricultural tradition that has sustained the Hispanic population for hundreds of years and Native People for thousands of years.

Cannabis growers need a lot of water, and they will soon be purchasing water rights from land owners who do not think of future generations but only have self-interest, or desperation, for money in mind.

Rushing a cannabis bill without a thorough inquiry of the effects commercial cannabis has had on other states’ rural populations where cannabis has been legalized is downright reckless.

This seems to be how short-sighted legislators are, as demonstrated by never having consulted with the councils of the 23 tribes in the state, nor with the commissioners of our state’s 600 registered acequias, which could be terribly affected by such legislation.

It is imperative that the general public be made aware of the potential repercussions on our rural economy, food sovereignty and uniquely diverse traditional New Mexico culture, of such new legislation, in a state that is already ranking very poorly in terms of food security, poverty and drug abuse.

What use will traditional people’s farmland be if there are no more water rights legally attached to their land?

Where will our food come from when more and more farmland is being retired due to the sale, or loss from abandonment, of water rights?


The Vado de Juan Paiz Ditch Association is in Dilia, along the Rio Pecos. The author is also president of the Mil Abrazos Community Land Trust, a nonprofit permaculture education settlement.

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