In a promotional video, the company uses several images of Native children in traditional dance regalia. One shot is of a Native American toddler playing on the ground, surrounded by cannabis plants. Still, the company insists that they are only marketing weed’s benefits to adults. “Cannabis is not good for a developing brain” Rodriguez says. “The science is clear on that, and for anybody to be marketing cannabis to young people is irresponsible.”
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In its first year, UltraHealth’s presence at the Gathering was minimal. All they had was a burlap tent, tucked behind food vendors, with the UltraHealth and High Times logos on it. But the booth remained empty all weekend, with no staff present and nothing to see inside.
Rodriguez later confirmed that the company had intended to display a cannabis plant and offer promotional materials, but the idea got botched by an ongoing dispute between UltraHealth and the New Mexico Department of Health. Last September, UltraHealth brought a non-flowering cannabis plant to the New Mexico State Fair. By the end of the day, the DOH ordered that they remove the plant because, they said, it constituted drug paraphernalia. They also ordered that all New Mexico UltraHealth locations be closed for five consecutive business days as punishment.
UltraHealth appealed the case, and filed a federal suit against EXPO New Mexico officials, claiming that they unconstitutionally limited the company’s rights to free speech and expression. They anticipate trial later this summer.
“We decided to leave the plant behind this time because we didn’t want to cause any trouble,” Rodriguez says.
The New Mexico Tourism Department decreased their usual funding contribution for the Gathering this year. Rodriguez said that it “seemed implied” that this was due their disdain for the UltraHealth partnership. The Gathering of Nations founders, Derek and Lita Matthews, declined to comment on the funding mishap, or on anything else regarding UltraHealth. The New Mexico Tourism Department didn’t address questions about any grievances about UltraHealth’s involvement with the powwow. “The Gathering of Nations is one of our New Mexico True treasures,” the Department says, adding that they sustained budget cuts this year, and had less ability to formally sponsor events.
UltraHealth intends to resolve their dispute with the State, and Rodriguez is confident that by next year, they will have the freedom to display much more cannabis marketing materials at the Gathering, including actual plants for people to “get comfortable with.”
Rodriguez says he once heard that one Pueblo community found ancient marijuana seeds in their land, and suggested the possibility of a far-reaching historical tie between Native communities and cannabis that somehow became severed over the years. Newbreast disagrees. “In my lifetime and my 35 years working in public health across Native country, I’ve never seen anybody use cannabis for ceremony,” she says. “I’ve seen peyote, and in a ceremonial context, that can do a lot of good. But I’ve also seen it abused.”
Newbreast also has seen friends of hers benefit from medical marijuana, and agrees that if distributed properly, in the right context, it could be appropriate. “When it comes to any sort of medicine, whether pain pills or cannabis or tobacco, it has to be administered with compassion,” she believes. “In order for it to help, it has to be done with love.”