CANNABIS CULTURE – A spokesperson for the New Zealand police was quoted to say, “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arising from other drugs, particularly methamphetamine, a one-size-fits-all annual aerial national cannabis operation no longer represents the most appropriate deployment of police resources.”
Light propeller aircraft and helicopters have taken to the skies yearly from the 70s, giving New Zealand police a tool to surveil the ground below for cannabis-growing plots, forest fields, or greenhouses. Every year this costs the New Zealand taxpayers millions of dollars.
The budgetary windfall will now shift to the fight against “priority drugs” like methamphetamine, known locally as “P.”
“The decision to spread resources throughout the year and increase surveillance focus on the drugs causing the greatest harm in the community does not mean that police across the country will not investigate and prosecute people engaged in the commercial cultivation of cannabis.”
However, an expose in STUFF, the most respected investigative media outlet in New Zealand claimed that police bosses agreed to stop the flights after finding that local police districts have little appetite to do the air searches.
The mounting of yearly surveillance had sparked polarized debates over the years. Critics accuse the police of wasting money and that major busts of cannabis dealers resulting from the flights are never revealed to the public. In 2005, cannabis air searches were briefly paused in New Zealand after a catastrophic crash of a single-engine surveillance airplane that claimed the lives of an officer and a civilian pilot.
However, the conservative National Party, currently out of power in New Zealand has expressed displeasure about the stopping of flights, saying, “given the increase in gang activity and violence we’re seeing across the country, operations like cannabis eradication would be useful now more than ever”.
In 2020 New Zealand voted to reject cannabis legalization. However, the results of the poll were close. 48, 4% of voters supported legalization while 50, 7% did not back the move.
“As other countries make leaps and bounds in their drug law reforms New Zealand seems bound to the tired and worn path of prohibition,” Fiona Hutton, a professor at the New Zealand Institute of Criminology and prominent cannabis legalization campaigner, wrote a furious op-ed reaction in the Guardian on the day the poll results were announced.
Yet cannabis is the most commonly used informal drug in New Zealand. About half a million of New Zealander adults had used cannabis, The latest health survey report showed. Among the biggest users of cannabis are the native Maori people who make up only about 15% of New Zealand population but bear are three times more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for using cannabis compared to the rest of society, the report showed.
“I am saddened that the groups who have suffered the most from our drug laws, those who are pushed to the margins of society, will continue to be criminalized and harmed by our current drug laws,” Dr. Hutton stated angrily.
In New Zealand’s biggest cities, campaigners like Dr. Hutton have hoped that the legalization of cannabis would make black market dealers, and extortionate prices go out of business, much to the benefit of young people.