Police have ripped out more than $100,000 worth of cannabis in the Wakatipu – including one plantation near a Queenstown suburb.
A joint squad of Queenstown and Dunedin officers searching in an Air Force Iroquois helicopter removed hundreds of plants last Sunday and Monday.
Detective senior sergeant Malcolm Inglis, of the Southern District Organised Crime Squad, says up to 100 of the plants were surprisingly located near residential homes at Arthurs Point, Queenstown.
Inglis says it is unusual to find a plantation so close to a residential area in the South Island.
“Down south it is usually in more remote areas,” Inglis says.
“We have such vast terrain and a lot less people, so it’s a lot easier to plant out in the bush.”
Inglis says each plant is valued at $500 to $1000 to sellers and he estimates the total haul is probably worth more than $100,000.
Officers searched swathes of land between Queenstown, Wanaka and Glenorchy during the two-day operation – which comes at the end of the summer growing season.
They had been alerted to some plantations by members of the public.
Inglis says: “Officers always have to be pretty careful when we go in. We have to look for booby traps. A major concern is cyanide.
“We certainly wouldn’t have got all of it. It will make a dent in the local market.”
The officer says the cultivators are often associated with gangs.
“The main aim is to try and stop it getting into the community, especially to schools and young people,” Inglis says.
“The problem with cannabis is that it is getting stronger and stronger every year – the THC [active ingredient] levels get higher and higher.
“When we were young the cannabis was like drinking a bottle of Speight’s – now it’s like drinking a bottle of whisky.
“Over the years they have imported seeds from overseas and been able to up the quality.
“They work on the plants like any agricultural industry I suppose, looking to improve their crop.”
The plants will now be destroyed, Inglis says.