For the first time since the 1970s, New Zealand police will not take to the skies in helicopters to scour the nation for cannabis plantations. The police are reportedly reassessing where their priorities lie and how resources are deployed, hoping to crack down on methamphetamine usage instead. Although the cost of this operation is not publicly known, it is assumed to cost at least a million dollars annually.
A spokesperson for the police force explained: “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arising from other drugs, particularly methamphetamine, a one-size-fits-all annual aerial national cannabis operation no longer represents the most appropriate deployment of police resources.” They proceed to clarify that resources will be “spread throughout the year”, although emphasised that those who are involved with the “commercial cultivation of cannabis” will still be prosecuted.
The New Zealand National Party have expressed their disapproval at the decision, arguing: “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.”
Last year, New Zealanders were given the opportunity to vote on the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use. 50.7% of the population voted “no”; although the referendum was non-binding, the government did abide by the result. Cannabis remains the country’s most commonly used illegal drug, with 15% of adults having used it in the past year.
While Māori people represent 16% of New Zealand’s population, they are three times more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for possession of cannabis compared to their non-Māori counterparts.
The New Zealand Drug Foundation has supported the decision, as executive director Sarah Helm explained: “While we pour resources into cannabis, methamphetamine is wreaking havoc on communities. We hope this changed approach represents a shift in police prioritisation.”