Police seize 141,000 cannabis plants
By MICHAEL FOX - Stuff.co.nz
18 August 2009
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HUGE HAUL: Cannabis collected from raids from across the central North Island.
Police seized 141,000 cannabis plants nationwide this year – the highest number in 10 years - and arrested 1125 people over a five-month anti-cannabis operation.
National Cannabis and Crime Operation Detective Senior Sergeant Scott McGill said the raids, carried out over five months and dubbed Operation Kirsty, had saved the tax payer $379,024,920 in costs associated with social harm.
Northland was the most prolific area for cannabis growing, while the biggest haul was 852 plants from a single plot in the Tararua area.
While Mr McGill declined to comment on the street value of those plants, he said it was substantial. “It would be a substantial amount of money… $850 plants [are] a heck of a lot of money in today’s economy,” he said.
Also recovered were 191 illegal firearms and an estimated $400,000 worth of stolen goods.
Four methamphetamine labs were also found in the 820 raids carried out compared to 10 last year, he said.
Mr McGill conceded the battle against cannabis would never be won, calling cannabis “part of our culture”.
The Central policing district alone netted a haul of 11,047 plants with 257 arrests.
Northland was the most prolific area, where it was continuously a “big problem”.
Mr McGill said they spotted most of the cannabis during aerial searches and once the plots were identified, police responded quickly to make arrests. He said it was uncommon for people to have removed their crop in time once they knew they had been spotted.
He did not know how many of those who were arrested went to jail as a result.
Despite the success of the raids, Mr McGill conceded the fight against cannabis would never be won. “It’s an ongoing battle that we will never conclusively win,” he said. “Cannabis is part of New Zealand culture, we’ll try our best to get as much of it off the street as possible but will we ever see the end of it? No there will always, I believe, be cannabis in New Zealand culture.”
He said the profile of the people they caught and the ways the crops were grown had not changed over twenty years.
Police spokesman Constable Dave Kirk said the annual campaign was aimed at getting drugs off the streets.
Mr Kirk said the anti-cannabis work involved surveillance phases where they identified where crops were being grown before officers moved in to arrest the offenders and pull out the plants. Some raids were made after police were lowered from Air Force Iroquois helicopters.