Police confirm plans for more aerial cannabis blitzes, sparking concern for 'green fairies'

Newshub can reveal police are planning more aerial cannabis searches this summer.

But with an estimated 94 percent of medicinal users still reliant on the black market, advocates for 'green fairies' are urging police to focus their resources elsewhere.

Corey Woodrow is one of them. Police found 25 cannabis plants at his home in Mataura, south of Dunedin, in November 2018. He says he grew it for medicinal use. 

"I had a bad car accident when I was 23 and suffered serious head injuries," he told Newshub. 

But Woodrow also supplied it to other medicinal users, and when police discovered his plants, he was later charged with supply and possession and sentenced to nine months' home detention. 

He acknowledges he broke the law - but questions it.

"I started to realise that there's quite a market for people trying to get this product to use specifically for medicinal purposes, and are they better off getting it off someone like myself, or off the gangs who are lacing it with P?"

According to the New Zealand Drug Foundation's 2022 State of the Nation report, an estimated 94 percent of those using cannabis for medicinal purposes are still accessing the drug through the black market.

Pearle Schomburg, convener of the Auckland Patients Group, told Newshub: "People cannot afford the legal products."

Some relief for green fairies came at the start of 2021 when police announced plans to scrap their annual aerial cannabis searches. But later that year police confirmed the blitzes were back.

More than 34,000 cannabis plants were seized last summer, valued at $95 million.

And now, police have confirmed to Newshub another nationally-coordinated operation in the months ahead.

"Police will conduct aerial searches for large-scale illegal cannabis growing operations, as we did last summer," a spokesperson told Newshub. 

"The nationally-coordinated operation will be conducted across several regions of New Zealand as part of police's wider cannabis investigation and prevention operations.

"For operational reasons we don't confirm which regions the operation will be conducted in."

It's disappointing news for Schomburg. 

"I don't really understand why the police are continuing this vendetta," she said. 

Internal police communications from 2021 obtained by Newshub show several districts not on board with the blitzes. 

Northland Police District said: "Not many in favour of the cost for large-scale operation."

Bay of Plenty Police District said its focus was on "methamphetamine and the harm it brings".

It was similar to Canterbury Police District's "focus on other drugs".

The Southern Police District suggested that the police "move forward and not back to what we have always done".

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick agrees. 

"Even the majority of the top dogs in the police agree that this is an expensive waste of time," she told Newshub. 

Police told Newshub the "aim of the operation is squarely on large-scale illegal cannabis growing and the organised crime groups behind them". 

In last summer's blitz they seized 80 firearms.

But green fairy advocates want police to recognise the harm the searches can cause.

"When you look at the impacts on green fairies, and the raids across this country, it's impacting patients," Swarbrick said. 

Schomburg added: "They're just growing to use themselves and to make products to ease their symptoms."