Police scrap annual aerial cannabis operation

Police have scrapped their annual aerial cannabis operation. 

The operation would see police team up with the New Zealand Defence Force to identify cannabis plants from the skies and then destroy them. Thousands of plants were slashed down every year and police have previously said tens of millions of dollars had been "saved in social harm costs". 

However, in a statement on Wednesday morning, police confirmed the operation had been axed.

"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arising from other drugs, particularly methamphetamine, a one-size-fits-all annual aerial national cannabis operation no longer represents the most appropriate deployment of Police resources," a spokesperson said.

Police said the illicit supply of cannabis remained a focus and that "funding is still available to districts that wish to prioritise the use of tactical support for the detection of cannabis plantations".

"The decision to spread resources throughout the year, and increase surveillance focus on the drugs causing the greatest harm in the community, does not mean that police across the country will not investigate and prosecute people engaged in the commercial cultivation of cannabis".

According to Stuff, Police Minister Poto Williams wasn't aware of the change when contacted by the media outlet on Tuesday. 

"While this is an operational matter, I have asked for a full briefing as to the rationale behind this decision."

National's police spokesperson Simeon Brown said that while methamphetamine was an issue, "so is cannabis use". He wants an explanation for what he calls a "major decision". 

"New Zealanders voted to reject the legalisation of cannabis. It’s an illegal drug and it causes significant harm in our communities.

"There is still a lot of organised crime involved in manufacturing and selling cannabis."

Police said they have a range of tactical options to target the production, manufacture and distribution of illicit drugs. 

"These tactics include intelligence gathering through a variety of methods including aerial searches, using informant information, general policing and public tip-offs. 

"Districts make these operational decisions based on the requirements specific to each area, working with the National Organised Crime Group throughout the year to target the manufacturers and distributors of methamphetamine, synthetics and cannabis as these drugs are all known drivers of crime and revenue streams for organised crime groups."