New Zealand's cannabis hotspots

Despite a drive to change the law, cannabis is still illegal in New Zealand, but there's a lot of pot being cultivated around the country. 

The 2018 National Cannabis and Crime Operation undertaken by New Zealand Police recovered over 50,000 cannabis plants. Information obtained by Newshub shows where the majority of those plants came from. 

The National Cannabis and Crime Operation runs for several months, according to police, and also includes search warrants and targeted enforcement relating to other drugs, organised crime and proceeds of crime. 

Northland was the top spot for confiscations, with 16,307 cannabis plants found, the data shows. The region has been highlighted as an illicit drug hotspot in New Zealand, with a recent Massey University survey revealing that 65 percent of respondents said they could obtain methamphetamine easily.   

In second place was the North Island's eastern region, where 10,859 plants were confiscated. This was followed by the Tasman District at the top of the South Island, where 7700 cannabis plants were discovered. 

The Waikato region had the fourth-highest amount of cannabis plants confiscated, where 7361 were found, followed by the Bay of Plenty where 5904 plants were confiscated. Auckland had 2651 plants confiscated. 

The 2018 National Cannabis and Crime Operation undertaken by New Zealand Police recovered over 50,000 cannabis plants.
The 2018 National Cannabis and Crime Operation undertaken by New Zealand Police recovered over 50,000 cannabis plants. Photo credit: Newshub

Cannabis is the most widely available illegal drug in New Zealand. The plants contain the active ingredient THC - the same compound that produces the "high" when smoking the drug. The more THC in a plant, the stronger its effects when consumed. 

The drug's manufacture, distribution and supply "continues to be an important focus for police given its links to organised crime and the harm it causes in our communities," New Zealand Police Detective Senior Sergeant Scott McGill told Newshub. 

Cultivation remains an important part of illicit drug supply in New Zealand for gangs and organised crime, Mr McGill says. The focus of the National Cannabis and Crime Operation is to "reduce social harm in or communities," he adds, by stomping out sale, supply and consumption of illicit drugs.

New Zealanders could be voting in a bumper referendum on cannabis and euthanasia by the end of 2019, which could see the Government legalise cannabis nationwide, the same way Canada did in June this year.  

The Green Party was promised a referendum on legalising the personal use of cannabis at or by the 2020 election as part of its coalition partnership with Labour to form a Government alongside New Zealand First. 

But there are warnings against the legalisation of cannabis.

A recent report by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area found that cannabis-related fatalities, hospitalisations, use, and illegal market activity have increased in the US state of Colorado since the drug was legalised in 2014. 

Since recreational cannabis was legalised in Colorado, cannabis-related deaths have increased 151 percent, the report claims, while cannabis-related traffic deaths involving drivers who tested positive more than doubled from 55 in 2013 to 138 in 2017. 

But Medical Cannabis Awareness New Zealand (MCANZ) author Shane Le Brun said the report left out crucial information about alcohol consumption in Colorado since cannabis was legalised, telling Newshub cannabis is a much safer substance. 

"They're talking about all these things being on the increase, but at the same time, knowing that alcohol is far more harmful than cannabis, they have ignored this," he said. 

A July survey by the New Zealand Drug Foundation revealed growing support for cannabis law reform in New Zealand, with two thirds of respondents saying the drug should be either legalised or decriminalised for personal possession.

Family First New Zealand National Director Bob McCoskrie says it would be a bad idea for New Zealand to legalise cannabis, saying regulation is failing in the nine US states that have legalised it so far.