How to tip off Green Fairies against cop choppers


Police are resuming their futile aerial hunts for cannabis grows, according to reports, and NORML wants your help tracking what they are up to.

The sound of an Air Force chopper was deafening and made the house shake.

I went outside to see what was going on, and looked up to see two defence personnel staring back at me, the pilot hovering his war machine near a power line, with the poison snorkel dangling just meters over my head as the operator fingered the trigger.

I could see their faces and count the rivets in the chassis. They surveilled my home and garden for what seemed an eternity, as I gestured my displeasure to them.

They ambled off to look at my neighbours place, then the next home after that.

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I live in Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges, and until last summer this was a regular experience all local residents had to suffer.

Every summer Police and Air Force crews would hover over homes in the Ranges, the west coast beaches and the Hauraki Gulf islands like Waikeke and Great Barrier, ready to dispense poison on any hooch plants they spot.

They only targetted the stereotypical ‘dope growing’ areas in Auckland, never the leafy suburbs like Epsom. Yet there are no large cannabis grows in the Auckland bush or beaches.

So last summer residents rejoiced as it was revealed police had quietly scrapped their annual cannabis ‘eradication’ programme in the wake of the dead-even referendum result, and a changing landscape where drugs such as methamphetamine and alcohol were recognised as causing much more harm.

Most of the harm attributed to cannabis is actually caused by police. Every dollar they spend chasing cannabis users or flying around looking for grows is chalked up in the Drug Harm Index as a harm caused by cannabis.

The last count, by the NZ Law Commission, pegged the police’s annual spend enforcing cannabis prohibition at over $300 million.

The aerial operation involves police ground crews, hired spotter planes, and Air Force helicopters and personnel.

They typically fly and hover lower than CAA regulations allow, and spray blue-dyed poison from the air onto plants and land they believe contains cannabis.

The results speak for themselves: their ‘eradication’ programme has barely made a dent in Aotearoa’s supply of cannabis, which continues to be as popular as ever.

And rather than busting organised crime, the helicopter operations tend to pick up home growers and medicinal producers. Two summers ago, they even poisoned a legal hemp crop and had to pay compensation to the grower.

Their efforts were also counterproductive to their own goals:

  • hauling out plants by air spread cannabis seeds over vast areas of the country;
  • burning the crops provided social occasions for nearby residents;
  • poisoning the plants created more harm as the toxic plants were often sold regardless; and
  • increasing the risk for growing outdoors simply transferred production into factories and industrial estates.

Given the 2020 cannabis referendum dead-even result – which ended the police’s social contract to enforce prohibition – and their recent track record of reducing arrests and being the ‘quiet achievers’ of NZ drug law reform, it came as little surprise to me that they had dropped the helicopter programme.

But as usual, the devil is in the details. While police HQ scrapped the national eradication programme in 2021, it still allowed police districts to apply for funding to run local programmes if that’s what they wanted.

That funding comes from assets seized under the Criminal Proceeds Recovery Act. Every dollar taken for helicopter joy rides is one less dollar available for drug education or treatment, which come from the same fund.

Last year it appears no police districts applied. But this summer, some areas may experience the sound of choppers hovering over their homes, with a poison bucket dangling over their heads.

After questioning by Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick, police have confirmed that districts may still run their own cannabis aerial operations, even though police HQ have canned the national operation.

But they’re not saying where, or when. It could be lots of places, or nowhere. They could even just be saying it so fewer people grow.

So we want to track them, and shine a light on what NZ police are really up to. Keep and eye and ear out for cannabis-related police misbehaviour or inappropriate police activity, and log your reports here – it’s Crimebusters for our side

Your tip offs could be confirmed sightings of cannabis aerial operations in action (look for the snorkel hanging below the helicopter to dispense their poison), breaches of your peace or your rights, witnessing illegal searches, courtroom shenanigans, and so on. By letting us know, we can raise public awareness and help more people.

Chris Fowlie is the president of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws NZ Inc; developer of the CHOISE model for cannabis social equity; CEO of Zeacann Limited, a cannabis science company; co-founder of the New Zealand Medical Cannabis Council; co-founder of The Hempstore Aotearoa; resident expert for Marijuana Media on 95bFM; cannabis blogger for The Daily Blog, and court-recognised independent expert witness for cannabis. The opinions expressed here are his own.


  1. Well written Chris…48.8% (over 1 million voters), had their wishes ignored, and the fact that the majority of those voters were also Labour/Green voters…does not say much about how Labour value their voters…please remember that in the 2023 election

  2. I live right in a DOC nature reserve of Waipori Falls. The ‘growers’ harvest the native trees for firewood and plant dope.

    This is the most beautiful, special place with amazing nature on earth, but I have to witness human trash, trashing nature for a few bucks.

    Four wheel drive idiots burn out cars and leave them along with there circles of mud and rubbish. Also drug dealing while they are in the reserve.

    This is Clutha district by the way.
    This is one tiny remnant of nature left, and this is the respect it is given. None at all.

    I make money from my art which is fucken hard, while these bums get a free ride harvesting nature reservations.

    • Kate, that is a nice part of NZ….I too, get annoyed by silly buggers destroying parts of NZ just because they can.
      I wonder, if Cannabis was legal, would it stop the growers destroying nature?

      • Problem is they are growing dope to fuel a meth habit in many cases. This becomes a very dangerous scene. Things are not cute with that.

        They need the money so they will do anything including fucking over their grandma’s. If they want dope for themselves they can grow it inside, we are talking about industrial scale planting in nature reserves.

        • yea just too many of those ‘housewife falls on hard times so starts growing dope films’ give a nice cuddly image to the thing…

  3. My boy is in the Royal Air Force. He is a paramedic.
    He told me that in the U.K. it costs over a thousand quid an hour to operate a helicopter.
    Day after day I hear and see police choppers buzzing over the Waitakares and wonder how much of our collective tax dollars are going to harass a few dope growers while four boy racers in line hoon down our leafy avenue, speeding past the local children’s playground, kindergarten and retirement home like a pack of joe hunts.
    Needless to say never a cop around when one is needed. Likewise when the bloke across the road gives his missus boxing lessons.

    • So gangland patch nature reserves isn’t up the priority list?
      These aren’t cute hippies. DOC land is for nature not for industrial $ crop growing free for all.
      I don’t think the native beautiful birds like their homes being destroyed.

    • I know the feeling Stevie…and to think the Government could sign off on making cannabis legal, or at the very least, remove it from the Crimes Act…could free up the Police resources

  4. I am so sorry to see this carry-on again – precious police time and expensive helicopters hunting out the green stuff. Control cannabis with sensible laws would be wise Andrew Little. The wisdom of the people is not overwhelming, we may have to think along different paths than pollies.

    If we want to use helicopter time, have police looking for Johnson grass or some other killer weed that farmers hate. I’ve got binder weed – convolvulus, which I hate, but I don’t want my backyard sprayed and everything killed off. If I was a farmer I’d go for diversity, not just cannabis’; in the old days they talked about a herbal ley. That’s as interesting and worthwhile concept as the cannabis ‘herb’.
    What is a grazing ley?
    It can provide grazing for early turnout and continues to produce forage right through the summer and autumn. … Containing deep-rooting ingredients, this ley not only improves soil structure but also draws up essential vitamins and minerals for the ruminant animal.
    ‘HERBAL’ Grazing Ley – Four Year Drought Resistant Ley

  5. Imagine if that 300,000, 000 was put towards support for those struggling with addiction and depression. How may lives could be saved? How many train-wrecks prevented?

  6. When stupidity threatens to overwhelm us all who you NOT gonna call…?
    Dope Busters!
    So write/call this person instead?
    Minister of Police.
    Hon Poto Williams
    +64 4 817 8724
    I’ve learned from a myriad of mistakes that assumptions are the mother of all fuck-ups.
    Don’t assume the Honorable Poto Williams won’t listen so fuck it, write to her and she, or her staff, will respond then we must act accordingly.
    We have to remember that OUR ministry, which is the management mechanism of OUR democracy, is required to respond as one would naturally expect.
    “Police are resuming their futile aerial hunts for cannabis grows, according to reports, and NORML wants your help tracking what they are up to.”
    The fact that “Police are resuming their futile aerial hunts” makes no sense at all, and as we all know, anything that’s born of a neoliberal-captilast democracy which doesn’t make sense means that someone else is standing to make money from the seeming stupidity.
    In my humble opinion the minister of police needs to understand that we human, human beings are not fucking happy with that in all its many connotations and permutations.
    Minister Poto Williams? You must regard us as human beings, not polite slaves to a morally corrupt capitalist-fascist system that’s failing us all. Except the 1% millionaires and billionaires. They’re sweet-as mates and as they’re so sweet it makes me ponder who’s really behind the departure from common sense that having police helicopters flying about looking for wee green plants that’ve never hurt anyone and have been decriminalised.
    Quite a few.

    • Andrew Little, Poto Williams and Jacinda do not have a clue drugs and gangs are running this cuntry and it is going to Hell in a Hand Basket IMHO ?

  7. The cost of this aerial surveillance is a misappropriation of tax payer money. I see the usual incompetent idiots behind the wheel are allowed to continue to drive and cause near misses and fatalities with no police traffic enforcement anywhere.
    Priorities !

  8. IMO, the greatest drug problem here in N.Z. for the last (at least) 150 years has been & is: ALCOHOL. That was always the case when I was a practicing NZRN & I doubt much has changed since I “retired”. I’ve been a user myself (of Cannabis tincture) & had a very comfortable 12 months a very small bottle lasted me: 2 drops on my tongue 4x/day. Cannabis for those who don’t research it, has for many years been a MOST helpful chemical re benefits, & compared to the ‘evils” of alcohol (& too many Pharma “drugs”), there is no comparison. Police are (again IMO) wilfully ignorant of the wonderful health benefits’ to many for whom orthodox medical drug treatment is virtually a killer & destroyer of too many people’s health.
    I haven’t used cannabis for too long as I can’t afford to pay the price ($ – not social “evil”).

  9. A customer of mine had to go back to nettle tea for pain suppression after a helicopter spotted his single pot. Ten years after, my 60s/70s year-old clients have stuck their pot up in the garden. Pot of pot.

    A lot of new recruits come here for their first years as police in Gisborne, otherwise given our local referendum result I can’t imagine the police would bother.

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