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Operation Peruvian: How police raid at rural property uncovered weed worth $10 million

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Police also seized an additional $17M in property, assets and cash in a related second investigation

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More than $10 million worth of cannabis has been seized and destroyed by police in New Zealand after uncovering six and a half thousand plants on a rural property.

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The discovery was part of Operation Peruvian, an investigation into large-scale cannabis cultivation in Northland. In addition to the pot, police seized about $17 million in property, assets and cash in a related second investigation.

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  1. FILE - The operation is usually conduced by New Zealand police and the New Zealand Defence Force.

    New Zealand police use helicopter to spray three cannabis plants belonging to elderly couple

  2. Accused did not deny after informed cannabis gift package had been intercepted. / PHOTO BY GETTY IMAGES

    He tried to send half-kilogram of cannabis to his parents in a lavender-scented package

  3. Image for representation. The monks were reportedly forced by police to take urine tests, subsequently failing. / PHOTO BY CHAIYON021 / ISTOCK / GETTY IMAGES PLUS

    Buddhist temple emptied of its holy men after monks test positive for meth

The bust follows months of work following an organized crime group and their alleged associates, according to New Zealand Police.

The second ongoing investigation, dubbed Operation Bush, resulted in millions of dollars worth of assets being seized in a money-laundering operation that led to more than 60 charges earlier this year. 

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Police say both investigations have uncovered several “enormous commercial growth cultivations” across the Northland, Waitematā, Auckland City, Counties Manukau and Waikato Districts.

The six and a half thousand cannabis plants were being cultivated in two commercial large-scale glasshouses and five purpose-built portable grow tents, officers report.

Another thousand plants were seized and destroyed at a local factory, which had recently been converted into a property specializing in growing the plants.

Six people, aged between 37 and 54, have been arrested in relation to the latest bust. The two investigations have now led to 34 arrests, with those individuals facing more than 100 charges.

“As our investigation is ongoing, Police cannot rule out further arrests, restraints, or charges in relation to either Operation Peruvian or Operation Bush,” said Detective Senior Sergeant Andrew Dunhill in a statement.

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Cannabis remains an illicit substance in New Zealand. A 2020 referendum almost changed that, but 50.7 per cent of voters opted against legalization.

Despite its illegal status, cannabis is said to be one of the most widely available drugs in the country, according to police.

In 2021, the police said they were ending a two-decade practice of annually hunting for cannabis grows using helicopters and planes.

“With the increased harm in many communities arising from other drugs, particularly methamphetamine, a one-size-fits-all annual aerial national cannabis operation no longer represents the most appropriate deployment of police resources,” a police spokesperson told Stuff.

The national operation had an average cost of about $700,000 and police say they target gang-affiliated, large-scale commercial growers.

Earlier this year, however, police once again took to the skies to spray three cannabis plants belonging to an elderly couple who consume the plant medicinally.

“The spraying of our plants seems like overkill. We would’ve been happy if someone had knocked on our door and said, ‘Hey, we’ve had a complaint,’ or something … we would’ve destroyed them if they asked us to,” the man told Stuff, adding that the ordeal was “pretty horrific and distressing.”

We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with feedback and story tips at thegrowthop@postmedia.com

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