Sunday was an stunningly hot day out on West Auckland’s famous black sand beaches. But as families in Piha, Kare Kare and Huia enjoyed the last day before school started for the year, local police had another idea in mind: to remind everyone that cannabis is not legal. Yet.
Police loaded up an expensive high-end military helicopter, hired a fixed wing spotter plane, and sent multiple ground crews in support.
They affixed a high resolution camera onto a boom suspended below the helicopter. They filled drums with poison, ready to spray on any cannabis plants they came across. They noted the locations of any properties of interest.
They did this knowing every dollar spent on eradication is totted up as a harm from cannabis, and with a bizarre circular logic the more they spend on eradication, they more harm they are officially saving.
They did this knowing they can snoop in everyone’s back yard from the air, but could not legally do the same from the street, and they are exempt from the usual CAA rules, such as sticking to safe flying levels.
They did this knowing they wouldn’t otherwise get to experience flying in a military helicopter. It’s probably jolly good fun.
They did this knowing there is a rahui on the ranges relating to Kauri dieback disease and their actions may compromise it.
They did this knowing some of the cannabis sprayed with their poison would still end up being sold illicitly, while spray drift may end up in waterways or poison nearby native bush.
They did this knowing there are no big commercial grows in the Waitakere bush or near the beach towns. That sort of thing was driven indoors years ago, into converted warehouses in the city.
They did this knowing most smaller growers are doing it for themselves, and chances are they are using it medicinally.
They did this a few weeks after medicinal cannabis was made legal, with a statutory defence for patients undergoing palliation to legally obtain cannabis.
They did this soon after the Government announced it will amend the Misuse of Drugs Act to guide Police away from prosecution.
They did this while publicly stating they don’t go around looking for cannabis (and in fact, overall cannabis arrests are down significantly).
They did this as New Zealand is beginning to discuss the cannabis referendum to be held at the general election next year.
They did this as polls show most New Zealanders do not support the current approach and would prefer to have cannabis treated as a health issue, not a crime.
They did this on a Sunday afternoon, knowing full well who would see it: middle NZ families out at the beach.
Police clearly wanted to send a message: Cannabis is still illegal. This was part of a P.R. campaign.
But rather than engender support through Sunday’s snooping and spraying, Police may have provided plenty of fertiliser to grow the campaign to #MakeItLegal.
Sending in the choppers, which will be repeated all over New Zealand this summer, is completely out of touch with public sentiment.
Local politicians who are up for re-election later this year will have noted the reaction from their constituents.
Judging from the response on social media, it was as appealing as an 80’s mustache with all the persuasive skills of a phonebook.
It doesn’t represent modern policing in contemporary New Zealand. Most officers have already made cannabis a lower priority for enforcement, and good on them.
Next year New Zealand will vote to make cannabis legal. For a proper debate to be held it is important that those who most affected are not considered criminals and hunted with the full force of the state. Police should immediately call off their aerial snooping and spraying programme.
Chris Fowlie is the CEO of Zeacann Limited, a medicinal cannabis producer; co-founder of the New Zealand Medical Cannabis Council; president of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws NZ Inc; co-founder of The Hempstore Aotearoa; co-host of Marijuana Media on 95bFM; and court-recognised expert witness for cannabis.