Major cannabis bust sees 48 charged

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 08:48 28/05/2014
Tim Jary
HIGH CRIMES: A police officer with arms full of cannabis during a combined police Royal New Zealand Air Force cannabis recovery operation in Nelson.

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A total of 48 people from across the Tasman Police District, including 26 from Nelson Bays are facing charges as a result of the annual cannabis recovery Operation Lucy.

This year 5266 plants were recovered, along with a further 17kg of dried plant material. Police also seized firearms and a significant amount of ammunition along with $10,000 in cash during the operation.

Operation commander Sergeant Rob Crawford said the high social cost of cannabis use and peripheral crime that affected largely rural communities continued to be a focus for the police in the annual recovery operation.

"Rural people suffer a lot of loss and damage when there are cannabis growers in the area. Fences are damaged, diesel gets stolen and freezers get emptied.

"We know that if we can make life difficult for growers, crime in those areas will decrease," he said.

Crawford said the number of plants seized was about the same as last year but the yield was "substantially more" because the plants were in much better condition because of more favourable growing conditions through the summer.

He said police found 172 cannabis plantations as a result of information gathered. He said there was a significant increase in plants located in Marlborough in the Havelock and Wairau Valley areas this season.

In total 38 search warrants were executed on properties.

"I think it's well known that the Tasman police area [which covers Nelson, Marlborough and the West Coast] has a very good cannabis growing environment, and also for the type of potency the environment here produces."

Crawford said that while police were discovering more and more indoor growing operations, outdoor plantations were still a popular option across the district due to the climate and accessibility.

He said there were areas well known to police as good cannabis growing places, but there were also new places "popping up all the time".

Crawford said an average plant can earn a grower about $1000 in yield.

"The social cost is high, and that's the reason we're battling it."

He said there were a few repeat offenders among those facing charges after this season's recovery.

"There are people in our community who make a living out of this - this is how they survive, and these are the people we have a greater focus on because what they do is costing in every area of the community."

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The recovered crop was destroyed by burning it.

"It's quite a process because green cannabis doesn't burn that easily. It has to be thorough," Crawford said.

He said the recovery phase of the operation was greatly assisted by the Royal New Zealand Air Force which provided an Iroquois helicopter.

"It's great for us to work alongside the air force who use the operation as training. The exercise provides a useful purpose for both organisations," he said.

Crawford said police were also grateful for the information received from the public which contributed to the operation.

"We can't do this without public involvement."

He said people who passed on information about suspicious activity were always dealt with in the strictest of confidence.

- Nelson

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