The New Zealand Police have put a halt to their yearly cannabis eradication operation in a shake up that has shocked frontline staff and officials who were not made aware of the move.
The annual national operation that sees the police partner with the New Zealand Defence Force to scour the skies in search of backcountry cannabis plots has been in place for over 20 years.
Stuff has revealed that top brass at the Police National Headquarters, which provides more that $700,00 a year to fund the operation, have decided to scrap it this year.
Police have previously stated that the annual operation prevented hundreds of millions of dollars worth of socio-economic harm by uncovering tens of thousands of cannabis plants each year.
Despite this, one of the reasons that the operation has been ground to a halt is down to a lack of push from the leaders of the 12 police districts, according to Stuff.
A police spokeswoman confirmed the move in a statement and said that the decision was made jointly by staff at a national and district level.
“With the increased harm in many communities arising from other drugs, particularly methamphetamine, a one-size-fits-all annual aerial national cannabis operation no longer represents the most appropriate deployment of police resources,” she said.
However, targeting the illegal supply of cannabis remains a focus and funding will continue for police districts who request or require “tactical support” to uncover and locate cannabis plots.
"As the medicinal cannabis agency is yet to approve a single medicinal cannabis product under the new regulations, many patients are still sourcing their medicine from the black market. What this will mean is potentially an extension of the product registration transition period currently ending in April 2021." - Will Douglas, Co-Founder and COO at NUBU Pharmaceuticals
The NZ Drug Foundation also hopes the change means that police will dedicate more of their resource to targeting “much more harmful substances such as methamphetamine”.
Sarah Helm, the executive director of the NZ Drug Foundation, said to Stuff that police had taken a “pure supply control” approach to cannabis for many decades and had “demonstrably failed.”
“While we pour resources into cannabis, methamphetamine is wreaking havoc on communities. We hope this changed approach represents a shift in police prioritisation.”
Police Association President Chris Cahill was not initially informed of the move and responded “I can understand that police have priorities ... but everything has consequences and if you’re not going to do these big operations then there at least needs to be a commitment to do some district-level operations.”
Cahill expressed concern that organised crime groups remained heavily involved in the growing and distribution of cannabis and often many illicit guns and stolen property were found during the operations.
“That still needs to be addressed given the ongoing risk firearms in the hands of criminals present to New Zealanders.”
The 2020 cannabis referendum bill that would have legalised cannabis was narrowly defeated at last year's election with 50.7 percent of voters opting against it, and 48.4 percent for it.
National's police spokesman Simeon Brown said police needed to be transparent about their reasons for shelving the operation.
“New Zealanders voted to reject legalisation of cannabis – it's an illegal drug and it causes significant harm in our communities. There's a lot of organised crime involved in this.
“Police should explain what the justification is for not cracking down on this.”
The scrapping of the annual cannabis operation is among several significant changes in policing since Commissioner Andrew Coster took charge last year.