Every year, teams from the New Zealand Police and the New Zealand Defense Force take to the skies in military aircraft and fan out over the remote hinterlands of the island nation. Their mission? Hunt down illegal cannabis grows and confiscate any plants, weapons and cash they find. And this year the annual tradition was, from law enforcement’s perspective, a complete success, with 10,000 marijuana plants seized in military-supported drug bust spanning two months and the entire backcountry.
New Zealand Military And Police Cooperate On Annual Drug Raids
Strapped into NH90 helicopters and leaning precariously out their open doors, police and members of the New Zealand Defense Force (NZDF) spent the last several weeks scanning the country’s remotest regions for clandestine cannabis farms.
In the southern hemisphere, it’s harvest season. Cannabis plants are in full bloom, ready for cutting, drying and curing. But this also makes the plants particularly susceptible to surveillance from the skies.
It also makes the military-style seizures particularly painful for the cultivators, who lost their crops at their peak.
Police, in conjunction with air and personnel support from the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s No. 3 Squadron, carried out the operation in February and March. The operation has just come to a close. And this year it seems to have put a significant dent in New Zealand’s illicit cannabis operations.
There were 10,000 marijuana plants seized in the military-supported drug bust, along with $50,000 cash and thirty guns.
The air operations target large-scale illicit operations. One bust at a single property turned up 1.3 kilos of dried cannabis flowers and more than 500 plants. But the remote locales of the farms require support from the military.
“The areas where they are cultivating cannabis are remote and so the NZDF’s air support is vital,” said Detective Senior Sergeant Scott McGill.
And in New Zealand, those areas are expansive. According to sources, the drug operation ranged from Nelson through Marlborough and the West Coast, down to South Island and Manawatu, Horowhenua, Whanganui and up to Ruapehu and Taranaki in the North Island.
68 percent of the plants, however, came from the Tasman region, said McGill.
Final Hit: 10,000 Marijuana Plants Seized In Military-Supported Drug Bust
Without air support from the military, New Zealand police would not be able to reach the cannabis farms they say are feeding the illegal market in the country.
But the military-style operations come with some military-style risks. In 2006, Detective Travis Hughes and pilot Christopher Scott died on a cannabis reconnaissance mission. Their Cessna 172 crashed during the operation.
In the 1990s, Detective Tony Harrod slipped out his helicopter sling and fell to his death while attempting to recover illegal cannabis plants in Taranaki.
And in 2009, a Senior Constable was shot and killed in a shootout with disgruntled cannabis cultivator Jan Molenaar.
It’s worth bearing in mind that cannabis itself has no lethal dose. Yet there have been four deaths from drug raid operations so far.
Nevertheless, Sergeant McGill says operations like these help keep the New Zealand public safe.
“It has dealt a blow to those engaged in these illegal activities. But more importantly, about 10,000 cannabis plants have been destroyed and will no longer be marketed in our communities, especially to our young people,” he said.
Yet attitudes toward cannabis legalization are changing rapidly in New Zealand. A progressive coalition took majority power in the country’s elections last October. Politicians with the Green Party have already announced a national referendum on medical and recreational legalization.
With a population of just under 4.8 million, which ranks it 126th worldwide, New Zealand has the ninth highest cannabis consumption level. And despite these military-style busts, total cannabis arrests have dropped over the last decade.