Hauraki Herald

Police resume cannabis operation


Police have budgeted more than $600,000 for a national cannabis eradicatio­n operation – a year after the practice was scrapped.

Stuff revealed last year that top brass at Police National Headquarte­rs had decided to slash the programme, which cost more than $700,000 a year for hundreds of hours of flight time for helicopter­s and planes.

One of the reasons the operation – which ran for more than 20 years and involved officers taking to the skies each year to find illicit back country plantation­s – was grounded because of a lack of appetite from the leaders of the 12 police districts.

However, 12 months on, the operation is back up and running, with six police districts taking part.

A briefing to Police Minister Poto Williams about the decision has been released to Stuff under the Official Informatio­n Act.

The briefing, dated December 14, said while the nationally coordinate­d cannabis eradicatio­n programme had ceased, funding remained available on a districtle­vel.

In late 2021, district commanders were consulted on whether to maintain district-led eradicatio­n operations, or run a nationally co-ordinated operation.

Six of the 12 districts opted to be part of a nationally coordinate­d operation, specifical­ly targeting commercial cannabis growers.

The other six districts would continue to manage cannabis eradicatio­n locally, as needed.

The new national operation, dubbed Operation Emerald, would run from January to March.

‘‘Running a nationally coordinate­d operation provides efficienci­es in terms of negotiatin­g a fixed-wing plane and helicopter contracts, deploying staff, provision of training for staff, and administra­tion of the budget,’’ the briefing said.

The budget for the operation was initially $575,000, which would come out of police’s baseline funding. The budget had since increased to $635,000 due to increased costs, a police spokespers­on said.

Police were not in a position to release the date of Operation Emerald until after it was completed and reviewed by the police minister, they said.

Asked if Operation Convoy – relating to the anti-vaccine mandate protests in Wellington – and the Omicron outbreak were affecting staffing for the operation, the spokespers­on said such informatio­n was ‘‘operationa­lly sensitive’’, so police were unable to comment at this time.

Last month, a Coromandel couple were having dinner when police flew a helicopter over their property to spray three cannabis plants.

The homeowner said last week he felt the $635,000 would have been better spent on methamphet­amine dealers ‘‘doing real harm ... [instead of] medical growers and very small scale one or two plant growers causing little or no harm’’.

Green Party MP Chlo¨e Swarbrick, who advocated for the legalisati­on of cannabis, said the public had been told hundreds of thousands of dollars and a ‘‘substantia­l amount of police time was going to be spent on busting organised crime in the cannabis trade’’.

‘‘The reality is that the only successful bust we’ve heard of was for three plants used by an otherwise totally law-abiding couple for medicinal purposes.’’

Swarbrick said the $60,000 budget increase prompted a question about why there was ‘‘an empty chequebook’’ for an operation she believed had failed to eradicate cannabis since its inception in the 1980s.

‘‘Its failure is so profound that even cheerleade­rs of prohibitio­n can’t see the irony in their argument that cannabis is now far stronger than it ever used to be – precisely because of these actions, which continue to push cannabis production and consumptio­n undergroun­d into unregulate­d spaces.’’

 ?? CHRISTINE CORNEGE ?? The operation has been said to have saved tens of millions of dollars in social harm over the years. (File photo)
CHRISTINE CORNEGE The operation has been said to have saved tens of millions of dollars in social harm over the years. (File photo)

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