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$1.8m cannabis confiscated

Wairarapa Police Area Commander Inspector Scott Miller, left, and Acting Detective Senior Sergeant Dean Cadwallader, officer in charge of CIB, with a trailer full of cannabis plants collected over the weekend. PHOTO/EMMA BROWN

OPERATION PIANO PART TWO
Public warned about booby trap danger

EMMA BROWN and ALEYNA MARTINEZ

A police swoop on isolated rural spots in South Wairarapa over the weekend has hauled in nearly $2 million worth of cannabis plants.

This bumps up the worth of the illegal crop seized in this year’s police operations in the region to almost $4m.

The Times-Age reported on February 14 that nine people were arrested, and about $2 million worth of cannabis plants were seized along with firearms during the first phase of a nationwide anti-drugs operation dubbed Operation Piano.

A group of 15 police officers, assisted by a helicopter crew, worked to identify where cannabis crops were being grown in rural areas of South Wairarapa.

Acting Detective Senior Sergeant Dean Cadwallader said that about 640 more plants – which could be turned into $3000 worth of cannabis each – were taken as part of the weekend’s operation.

“It’s a good result for us to take that black market cannabis off the street,” he said on Monday.

Wairarapa Area Commander Inspector Scott Miller said there was a trend for growing the illegal plants by rivers, creeks and valleys.

“It’s funny because everything around the cannabis plots are dead and brown and the cannabis crops are nice and green which makes them easy to spot.

“Cannabis cultivators adapt so that’s what we’ve seen a lot this year – crops being grown down by creeks so if there’s a drought, they have got water for their plants.”

The cannabis growers also grew smaller groups of plants in an area – a method called spot planting.

Miller said police had spoken to farmers on whose properties cannabis crops were found and removed.

“A lot of the crops are found on public land but most of the growers will go and grow on their neighbours’ land in an area where they don’t think the neighbour ever goes,” Miller said.

“If we find a crop on someone’s land – a farmer’s land or something – then we investigate that in relation to the assets as well so if it’s not the farmer, which in most cases it’s not, someone else is putting their livelihood in danger by having police confiscating farms, houses, equipment.

“The majority of people are good citizens and they don’t want other people growing cannabis on their land which gets them into all sorts of trouble.”

“Especially for the rural sector, they’re protecting their own ground too because with people being on their land too, who knows what else they’re doing on their land.

“Quite often, growers will go in disguised as hunters so all of a sudden you are having people on those plots who are armed and have booby traps.”

He said booby traps could be anything from nails sticking up through wood placed around a crop to fishhooks at eye level or shotguns at ankle level.

“So, anyone that finds cannabis should stay away from it, take the GPS points and report it to police or Crimestoppers,” Miller said.

Cadwallader said the bulk of this seizure was black market cannabis.

“Which is people making a lot of money out of it. They’re getting rich out of selling it and causing us social harm”.

Miller said anyone caught with amounts which are obviously for personal use got warned.

Operation Piano was aimed at netting the big, illegal growers.

“It’s a long time since police have made any arrests and put people before court for personal use.

“So, what we’re looking at now are big cultivators of cannabis for whom it’s a commercial enterprise.

“Some of these crops that we find could be worth about $300,000 dollars – that’s not for personal use.

“So basically, we’re looking at people that are making large amounts of cash illegally, off illegal drugs, which is cannabis this time.

“That’s the aim of this [operation].”

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