How to Warn Green Fairies About Police Helicopters

Police are resuming their futile aerial hunts for cannabis crops, according to reports, and NORML needs your help to track what they’re up to.

The sound of an Air Force helicopter was deafening and shook the house.

I got out to see what was going on and looked up to see two defense personnel staring at me, the pilot hovering his war machine near a power line, with the poisoned snorkel dangling from a few feet above my head as the operator pulled the trigger.

I could see their faces and count the frame rivets. They watched my house and garden for what seemed like an eternity as I showed them my displeasure.

They walked off to look at my neighbors and then the next house after that.

I live in the Waitakere Ranges of Auckland, and until last summer this was a regular experience for all local residents.

Every summer, police and Air Force crews flew over Ranges homes, West Coast beaches and Hauraki Gulf islands like Waikeke and Great Barrier, ready to spray poison on all the plants they spot.

They only targeted stereotypical “drug culture” areas in Auckland, never leafy suburbs like Epsom. Yet there are no large cannabis crops in the Auckland bush or beaches.

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So last summer, residents rejoiced when it was revealed that police had quietly abandoned their annual cannabis “eradication” program following the dead-end referendum result and a changing landscape where drugs such as methamphetamine and alcohol were known to cause far more harm.

Most of the harm attributed to cannabis is actually caused by the police. Every dollar they spend chasing cannabis users or stealing for cultivated plants counts in the Drug Harm Index as harm caused by cannabis.

The latest tally, by the NZ Law Commission, put annual police expenditure to enforce the cannabis ban at more than $300 million.

The aerial operation involves police ground crews, leased spotter planes, as well as air force helicopters and personnel.

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

The results speak for themselves: their “eradication” program has barely dented Aotearoa’s cannabis supply, which continues to be as popular as ever.

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

Their efforts were also counterproductive to their own goals:

  • transporting plants by air spreading cannabis seeds over large areas of the country;
  • crop burning provided social opportunities for nearby residents;
  • plant poisoning created more harm because poisonous plants were often sold regardless; and
  • the increased risk of outdoor cultivation has simply shifted production to factories and industrial areas.

Given the dead-end result of the 2020 cannabis referendum – which ended the police’s social contract to enforce the ban – and their recent record of reducing arrests and being the ‘high achievers’ silent’ about New Zealand’s drug law reform, it didn’t surprise me that they had abandoned the helicopter programme.

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

This funding comes from assets seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act. Every dollar taken for helicopter rides is one less dollar available for education or drug treatment, which comes from the same fund.

Last year, it appears that no police district applied. But this summer, some areas could hear the sound of helicopters hovering over their homes, with a poison bucket hanging over their heads.

After being questioned by Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick, police confirmed that districts could still conduct their own cannabis flight operations, even though police HQ had suspended the nationwide operation.

But they don’t say where or when. It could be many places, or nowhere. They might even just say it so that fewer people grow up.

So we want to follow them and shine a light on what the New Zealand Police are really doing. Keep an eye and an ear out for cannabis-related police misconduct or improper police activity, and file your reports here – that’s Crimebusters on our side

Your tips could be confirmed sightings of cannabis aerial operations in action (look for the snorkel hanging under the helicopter to dispense their poison), violations of your peace or rights, witnesses to illegal searches, indoor shenanigans audience, etc. By letting us know, we can raise awareness and help more people.

Chris Fowlie is the chairman of the National Organization for Marijuana Law Reform 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 pundit for Marijuana Media on 95bFM; Cannabis blogger for The Daily Blog and Cannabis Court Recognized Independent Expert Witness. The opinions expressed here are his own.