Monday, February 21, 2005

On Navajo Reservation, a New Tool in the Fight Against Drugs

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - The optimism generated by the Navajo Nation Tribal Council's vote to criminalize the sale, possession and manufacture of methamphetamine on the reservation here may be tempered by a lack of jail space to handle the expected increase in arrests, the authorities say.

Hope MacDonald-LoneTree, the chairwoman of the council's Public Safety Committee and sponsor of the methamphetamine legislation, said data showed that 40 percent to 90 percent of violent crime on the 25,000-square-mile Navajo Reservation involved the drug.

"We've seen users as young as 9 years old using meth," Ms. MacDonald-LoneTree said.

The authorities said gangs from Phoenix and the West Coast have organized the distribution of drugs on the reservation. Armed with the new law, officials said they expected an increase in arrests, which would further strain an overwhelmed justice system.