Home D for major Queenstown drug op


A Queenstown man has been sentenced to five months’ home detention for helping friends running a major cannabis processing operation from Queenstown Lakes District Council-owned land next to his home.

Sentencing Michael Alexander Dickson in the High Court at Invercargill yesterday, Justice Cameron Mander says it’s a mystery why Dickson got involved in a multimillion-dollar cannabis growing and sales ring which operated in Southland for years.

The judge says he was otherwise of good character and was effectively a first offender, apart from one traffic matter.

“You involved yourself by helping your friends, but the extent of the operation must have been known to you,” he says.

The ring was broken in mid-2012 after a three and a-half-year police investigation called Operation Canary. Five men were arrested in an initial raid and several more men were arrested later.

Dickson, 54, a set builder in the television and film industry, pleaded guilty to one charge of possessing cannabis for sale, after a sentencing indication hearing last month.

Mander says Dickson’s part in the ring was to watch out for cannabis and processing equipment hidden on council-owned land next to his property on Peninsula Rd, Kelvin Heights, and to transport his friends to and from his house from time to time so it was not obvious they were visiting the neighbouring property.

One of the men was Brian Anthony McCarthy, the judge says, but he didn’t name the other.

McCarthy, who was 62 when he was arrested, was described at his sentencing in 2013 as a key player in the cannabis ring, which police said could have operated for up to 20 years.

During Operation Canary, McCarthy set up and tended 10 cannabis plots in remote parts of Southland and helped with the harvesting, processing and selling.

Mander says when police searched the council-owned land on May 28, 2012, they found two large plastic bins full of cannabis, a set of scales, 7.2kg of cannabis packaged in plastic bags in 450gm lots, and more loose cannabis hidden among shrubs.

In all, 24kg of premium cannabis was discovered.

The estimated street value was between $117,000 and $593,000, depending on how it was sold.

Mander says it appeared Dickson’s involvement was “casual and limited” and stemmed from an interest in cannabis as a user.

Otago Daily Times