New Zealand’s Cannabis Shops Get International Attention

We all know that New Zealand has a widespread and deeply damaging problem with drugs, some of you may also know that it has the dubious honour of having the highest rate of cannabis users in the OECD and the third highest rate of Amphetamine use.

The international press has just picked up on the story that a chain of gardening shops has been shut down after staff allegedly sold the “wrong sort of plants to undercover police officers” and what’s worse they also seized LSD, methamphetamine, ecstasy and firearms. Which tells us that this industry is most probably well and truly controlled by organised gangs, there’s big money being made out of it.

This appeared in the UK’s Telegraph newspaper on 29 April:

New Zealand police closed down 16 Switched on Gardener outlets, claiming that the company formed the backbone of the country’s $800 million (£374m) illegal cannabis industry

We doubt that it was the ‘backbone’ as stated, most of New Zealand’s cannabis crop is cultivated in out of the way bush areas, not at home.

This was evidenced by the recent ‘joint’ raid by the NZ airforce and police on a plantation in dense bush near Frankton. There police were targeting growing operations in Queenstown, Arrowtown and outlying areas, seizing a sizable crop from Marina Heights, much to the surpise of the local residents. According to a report in Scene:

“Marina Heights resident Jay Mather says it’s a surprise to see a drug plantation raid so close to home.

“The helicopter lowered a guy down on a wire and 10 minutes later winched him and a bunch of weed back up and flew off.

I did think they were just practising because that sort of thing doesn’t tend to happen here. I’ve lived on Great Barrier Island where it was a weekly event.

Another Wakatipu hash haul was completed last night.

Drug cops usually swoop on crops of the C-class drug at this time of the year because that’s when the plants are due to be harvested. In March 2007, Mountain Scene revealed more than $500,000 worth of cannabis was destroyed following police raids in the Wakatipu and Otago-Southland.”

Back to the Switched on Gardener bust:

“The raids were the culmination of a two-year operation and were triggered after employees of the chain allegedly sold drugs, cannabis plants and growing equipment – and offered tips on how to grow productive plants – to undercover police officers.

The closures were part of a major crackdown on the drug that involved raids on 35 gardening businesses across New Zealand and the arrest of some 250 people, including employees, managers and company directors. Police said some 700 charges had been brought as a result of the operation.

Deputy commissioner Rob Pope said that some of those arrested had sold drug-growing equipment, including a fertilizer called Budzilla and magazines about cannabis.

Dried cannabis was found in at least one Switched On Gardener shop, while LSD, methamphetamine, ecstasy and firearms were seized by search squads from some other premises, according to police.

More than 100 commercial cannabis growing operations allegedly linked to the businesses were also found and dismantled during Operation Lime.

“We’ve got strong evidence of its (Switched On Gardener’s) complicity in supplying equipment for cannabis growing on a sophisticated scale,” Mr Pope said.

“Businesses have been committing these offences and supporting commercial cannabis growers and organised crime over a long period of time.”

Mr Pope said the harm that cannabis caused New Zealand communities could be conservatively estimated at $430 million a year.

The Switched On Gardener chain, a national company, mainly sold garden supplies and equipment to home gardeners.

In New Zealand it is illegal to manufacture or sell equipment knowing it will be used to grow or make drugs.”

What we’d like to know is why did it take 2 years to close them down?”

If you’re concerned about ubiquitous drug use in New Zealand, you may want to read our post “Kaitaia Kids’ drunken night of rampage, Marijuana and the lost generation ” and read about how drug use is linked to the alarming rise in armed robbery and violent crime in this small Pacific Island country.