Police division over controversial cannabis operation revealed


Police scan the bush for cannabis plants from a Royal New Zealand Air Force NH90 helicopter. (File photo)

New Zealand Defence Force

Police scan the bush for cannabis plants from a Royal New Zealand Air Force NH90 helicopter. (File photo)

Senior police are divided over whether to run a controversial cannabis eradication operation nationwide, emails released under the Official Information Act (OIA) reveal.

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 to spot and destroy cannabis plants.

However, 12 months on, the operation was back up and running, with six police districts opting to take part, the other six continuing to manage cannabis eradication locally as needed.

In February, a helicopter was used to spray three cannabis plants grown by the residents of a Coromandel property for medicinal reasons as part of the operation.

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Stuff requested under the OIA any correspondence between the district commanders and Police National Headquarters over the proposal.

The emails from last year reveal that many district commanders felt the national operation was a poor use of resources and was a distraction from action against organised crime, guns and methamphetamine.

Of the 12 police districts, only three – Tasman in the South Island, and Central and Eastern in the North Island – expressed support for conducting aerial cannabis search and destroy operations.

The Air Force Iroquois helicopter pictured at Whatamango Bay in the Marlborough Sounds. (File photo)

Christine Cornege

The Air Force Iroquois helicopter pictured at Whatamango Bay in the Marlborough Sounds. (File photo)

Waikato police district commander superintendent Bruce Bird criticised an official report into the national operation.

He said the initiative had failed to make cannabis any more expensive, suggesting that supply had not been dramatically affected.

“This paper is full of assumptions and speculation, but lacks any evidence,” he said. “There is also evidence that the price for a tinny [a small amount of cannabis] never changes – that is an impact on supply and demand.”

Canterbury district commander John Price wrote in an email in September that they had not run aerial operations “for a few years”.

“The intelligence is not there to support the benefit realisation when our focus has been on other drugs that show are an issue in our waste water testing and through our intelligence feeds.”

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)

Waitematā district commander Naila Hassan wrote in an email in September that she did not support the plan.

“In Waitematā we don’t see any worthwhile benefit to this operation being run in our district.”

Bay of Plenty district commander Andy McGregor also wrote that he did not support a national operation.

“The big focus in the Bay is on methamphetamine and the harm it brings as well as high end OC [organised crime] groups.”

STUFF

Chloe Swarbrick is proud of the ‘fact based’ campaign for cannabis legalisation but says the same can’t be said for those opposed. (First published October 30, 2020)

Wellington district crime services manager John van den Heuvel summarised feedback from staff in the capital in another email last September.

“With benefit not obvious, the proposed annual NCCO may be viewed as an operation for the sake of an operation,’’ one bullet point in the email stated.

The feedback was sent to police director of national organised crime group, Greg Williams, who replied in an email that it was not productive.

“This just makes my head hurt and most of this isn’t actually that productive. It [aerial cannabis operations] was a capability districts have had going back into the 1980s.”

The operation has been said to have saved tens of millions of dollars in social harm over the years.

Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick said the cannabis operation had not achieved anything.

RICKY WILSON/Stuff

Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick said the cannabis operation had not achieved anything.

But Green Party MP Chlöe Swarbrick, who has campaigned for the legalisation of cannabis, said the national operation had not achieved much.

“This has been going on for decades, and what do we have to show for it?’’ she said. “Cannabis has been displaced for methamphetamine and the price of a tinny has not been impacted.

“It is really clear that the majority of the police do not want this … The majority are saying it is not a good use of resources or time.”



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