New Zealand police claim to have broken the backbone of the country’s $800-million marijuana industry. The paralyzing blow came last Tuesday when officers raided 35 businesses and a number of residences, seizing plants, growing equipment, guns, methamphetamine and other drugs in the climax of a two-year investigation called “Operation Lime.” The lion’s share of the bust went to 16 stores owned by a company called Switched on Gardener, a seller of hydroponic plant-growing supplies, although several other gardening stores were also targeted.
“Our undercover officers purchased equipment, were given advice on how to grow cannabis, and even purchased cannabis clones and other drugs over the counter from these offenders,” said Deputy Police Commissioner Rob Pope. “This operation aimed to stop the supply of this equipment and has been very successful in doing so.”
More than 700 charges have been laid against 257 people in connection with the operation, which also dismantled 119 grow ops. But in a country with one of the highest rates of regular pot usage in the world and where half of adults admit to trying the drug, there is little unity against marijuana.
“Alcohol and tobacco together kill far more than all other illicit drugs combined, so in terms of danger, there is an inherent contradiction present when governments trot out the dangers of marijuana as justification for its prohibition,” says William Wood, a criminologist at Auckland University. He says the bust is a waste of time and resources, and that since pot is so easy to cultivate, it will just amount to a very brief setback for growers.
Wood’s criticisms are already ringing true. Although they now have to ID and keep track of their customers, many of the raided businesses have already reopened, meaning growers can still get all the equipment they need, and the marijuana market is still budding.