18 Jul 2012

2500 arrested in cannabis raids

9:28 pm on 18 July 2012

Two nationwide police operations over six months have resulted in the seizure of cannabis with a potential worth of $130 million, and the arrests of more than 2500 people.

Operation National ran in conjunction with the annual Operation Kelly in all 12 police districts.

Police Minister Anne Tolley says the operations will act as a strong deterrent to criminals. "It's about sending very strong messages that we're out there, we're on top of this and they're not going to get away with it."

She says it's appalling 248 children were found in drug dealing houses as part of the sting.

Police say they located 280kg of plant material, destroyed 130,385 plants and seedlings, and arrested a total of 2573 people in the operations, which targeted cannabis growers and dealers who operated out of houses.

Other drug seizures included 1.4kg of methamphetamine, 321 LSD tabs and 4150 ecstasy pills. As well, 327 firearms and $675,533 in cash were seized.

Fourteen residential properties worth an estimated $4.6 million were also restrained under the Criminal Proceeds Recovery Act, along with eight cars, a boat, cash, bank accounts, bonus bonds and shares.

Joint operations

Police say Operation National targeted indoor growers and cannabis dealers operating out of drug dealing houses. It ran alongside this year's Operation Kelly, which uses fixed wing aircraft to spot cannabis crops during the cannabis growing season.

Manager covert operations at Police National Headquarters, Detective Inspector Paul Berry, says the operations prevented millions of dollars worth of harm by getting drugs and offenders off the streets.

A recent United Nations report highlighted New Zealanders as being among the highest users of cannabis in the world.

Mr Berry says he puts the high usage down to the number of people who are growing their own.

"Because we're an island nation we have to be self-sufficient, and we've seen those trends over a number of drugs," he says.

"For instance ... cannabis ... the indoor grow is more prevalent in some ways than the outdoor grow. And we've got homegrown heroin - New Zealand criminals, the number eight fence wire approach, rather than import it, make it and grow it yourself."

Prevention overlooked, say groups

The Foundation for Alcohol and Drug Education says it has never had it so tough when it comes to the funding needed to promote its drug awareness messages.

The charity says in the last eight years its funding has fallen from $600,000 to $200,000 a year.

Executive director Colin Bramfitt says there is a big gap in investment in drug prevention and education.

The Drug Foundation says the Government must take a fresh look at how it stops people getting involved with drugs.

It says there needs to be a better balance in the way the Government tackles the country's drug problems.

Executive director Ross Bell says it shouldn't be left to the criminal justice system to fix what it says is fundamentally a health problem.

He says more Government investment must be put into drug prevention.