Dope swoop targets businesses

Businesses and homes were raided and more than 1200 cannabis plants seized in the South yesterday as part of an undercover police operation.

Warrants were executed at two businesses and three homes in Dunedin, and at a business and a home in Invercargill as part of nationwide Operation Lime.

Five people were arrested on charges of supplying equipment to the cannabis industry, and further charges of cultivating cannabis were likely.

The Dunedin branch of the hydroponic gardening chain Switched on Gardener was one of the businesses targeted.

Nationally, 15 other branches and its national distribution centre were searched.

The other Dunedin business searched was in the central city.

Yesterday's operation also led to four more Dunedin search warrants being issued, but those investigations are yet to be completed.

The investigation dates back to early 2008, when undercover officers were sold equipment from the businesses and given advice on how to grow cannabis, police said.

"These businesses appear to have been committing these offences and supporting commercial cannabis growers and organised crime over a long period," Southern District Crime Services manager Detective Inspector Steve McGregor said.

Asked if the operations were gang-related, Det Insp McGregor said "we have to call it organised crime".

"One would be surprised if the gangs did not become involved."

Southern District Police also initiated a second operation, Operation Bitters, which targeted those customers who had bought equipment from the undercover targets.

From the second operation, 38 search warrants for houses were executed, with 32 of them involved in cultivating cannabis indoors, Det Insp McGregor said.

More than 1200 cannabis plants were found, and this would have a considerable impact on cannabis distribution in the South.

Thirty-two of the 114 indoor cannabis units located as part of Operation Lime were from the Southern District, he said.

"The success of these two operations to date suggests that cannabis remains the major drug problem in the Southern District and this corroborates with evidence obtained during the recently concluded Operation Rocket, which targeted the activities of the Mongrel Mob Aotearoa in Dunedin."

Deputy Commissioner Rob Pope said the nationwide operation aimed to stop the supply of cultivation equipment, and would break the cornerstone of the illicit cannabis cultivation industry.

More than 250 people were arrested and faced more than 700 charges, and more than 100 commercial cannabis growing operations were found and dismantled.

During the operation, undercover police bought equipment, were given advice on how to grow cannabis, "and even purchased cannabis clones and other drugs over the counter from these offenders", Mr Pope said.

Methamphetamine, LSD, ecstasy and firearms were also seized, but none in the Southern District.

The 2009 Criminal Proceeds Recovery Act would allow police to seize money and assets from offenders, Mr Pope said.


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