Cops call on southerners to help spot pot

This year police have for the first time asked residents from the Waitaki River south to keep their eyes peeled for plots of marijuana in the bush, on the roadside, or down the back of the farm.

The request comes not because there is an increasing problem or the police are cutting costs, they say, but because growers are becoming more cunning and the police know ordinary people using these areas for recreation or work are the most likely to come across a marijuana plot.

The message that the public can help beat the scourge of marijuana, which police say costs society $11,740 per kilogram, is not a new one; certainly not in the North, where police have been appealing to the public for years to tip them off about cannabis growers.

But it is a new appeal for help in the South, where, police say, outdoor conditions are perfect for growing cannabis and where the cultivators are becoming more savvy, planting their crops in smaller, scattered plots to make them harder for police to find.

The remoteness of many parts of Otago and Southland, from Fiordland to Berwick, to the Catlins, to Central Otago, also make it a good place for cultivators to work uninterrupted.

As with everywhere else in the country, this makes marijuana production a big problem for the South, Detective Regan Boucher, from the southern police district's organised crime unit, says.

He has no specific figures, but the information southern police get, as well as the reasonably regular busts, indicate the industry is alive and well here.

And it makes sense for commercial growers to put the effort into outdoor grows, because outdoor plants produce much larger heads than indoor.

Marijuana is grown by people for their own use, but also for commercial sale, and will often be connected to gangs, with the product sold locally.

The issue with marijuana these days is that it is not what it used to be, Det Boucher says.

Different growing techniques and cultivated strains of the plant mean the average marijuana product is 30% more potent than it was just 15 years ago.

"It's a serious chemical now, not what used to be sweet in the 1970s. I just don't think people understand that."

And it is not just the effects on a person's health and mental wellbeing; it is the associated crime that comes with the cultivation of cannabis that concerns police.

Farmers on land that cannabis growers have to cross to get to their plots have had stock poached and property stolen.

People can be aggressive while protecting their plots.

Plots will often be in remote places where chances of detection are low and law enforcement teams seldom patrol. However, trampers, hunters and people fishing, camping or farming do tend to visit out-of-the-way places in the South and are the most likely to encounter growing operations.

"We are asking the public to assist because they are the ones out there on a day-to-day basis, and they can assist us to do our job."

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