Dealers and growers caught in region's drug sting

DRUG HAUL: Police unload cannabis recovered in the Motueka Valley area in March this year.
DRUG HAUL: Police unload cannabis recovered in the Motueka Valley area in March this year.

More than 30 arrests have been made in the Nelson Bays region in a national operation targeting indoor growers and cannabis dealers.

Nationally police have seized and destroyed more than 130,000 cannabis plants more than 280kg of dried cannabis in the six-month operation.

In the Nelson Bays region 33 arrests were made, and 321 plants and 6.5kg of cannabis plant seized.

Police targeted drug dealers working out of houses, aided by Operation Kelly, which used aerial searches to spot cannabis crops during the growing season.

In the Nelson Marlborough region Operaton Kelly resulted in 3752 plants being seized and 52 arrests, including three related to gangs.

Firearms were also found in the regions, seven in Operation Kelly and 11 in Operation National in Nelson Bays.

Police say nationally, as well as arresting 2573 people, they confiscated 280 kilograms of cannabis plant, estimated at $5.6m, and destroyed more than 130,385 plants and seedlings with a potential street value (at maturity) of up to $130m. 

Detective Inspector Paul Berry said when they raided homes police found multi-million dollar operations, including one which was run by a Wellington grandmother and her family and one by a Southland resident, who had accumulated millions of dollars in assets despite being unemployed for more than 20 years.

Every gang in the country was involved, including the Mongrel Mob, Head Hunters and Rebels, Mr Berry said.

‘‘This is bread and butter for the gangs. This is how they make their money.’’

Police also found 248 children, who would have watched their parents grow drugs and sell them at the door, he said.

Many of those children have been referred to Child, Youth and Family.

By targeting cannabis growers and dealers, police estimated that $350m worth of harm had been prevented.
Police also discovered more than 300 firearms and other illicit drugs, including 1.4kg of methamphetamine, 321 LSD tabs and 4150 ecstasy pills.

They seized 14 properties, worth a total of $4.6m, eight cars, a boat, and cash and bonds worth more than $1m, some of which was seized under the Criminal Proceeds Recovery Act.

‘‘When you put the two lots of results together — both Operation National and  Operation Kelly — that is a significant disruption to the supply chain,’’ Mr Berry said.

No one was arrested for smoking cannabis, instead it was people who were manufacturing and selling the drug and profiting from it who were targeted.

Many of those arrested have already appeared in court.

Operation National was just the start of a nationwide crackdown, Mr Berry said.

‘‘We remain committed to disrupting the business end of illicit drugs — that means targeting the growers and the dealers.’’

By targeting dealers, police believed they were directly hurting the potential for organised criminal groups to operate successfully.

All 12 police districts were involved in the operation, and some have already released their results.

A recent United Nations report said New Zealand had one of the highest number of cannabis users in the world.