Hummer, house seized after police investigation into alleged major synthetic cannabis ring

A Hummer truck has been seized and nine people arrested following raids on an alleged synthetic cannabis supply ring in Tauranga.

Police were searching a Greerton address this morning and confirmed the house – and the 2007 model Hummer parked in the driveway – would be restrained under the Criminal Proceeds Recovery Act.

Several other vehicles, as well as a jetski and a motorcycle, were seized during search warrants executed in Papamoa and Mt Maunganui and at a lunch bar and tyre shop in the Birch Ave industrial area.

Officers were also seen visiting a rural property in Pyes Pa.

Nine people have been charged under the Psychoactive Substances Act for the manufacture and supply of synthetic cannabis, said Detective Senior Sergeant Nick Pritchard of the National Organised Crime Group.

Two firearms – a rifle and a sawn-off shotgun – and “multiple” kilograms of synthetic cannabis material were also confiscated, Pritchard said.

His team based in Tauranga had been investigating the alleged synthetic cannabis supply ring since February in a covert inquiry called Operation Fauna.

In those few months, Pritchard said 13kg of synthetic cannabis had been distributed in Tauranga, but also Auckland, Taupo and Wellington.

He said a two-gram bag of synthetic cannabis can be purchased for as little as $20.

Earlier this morning, Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers said the alleged synthetic cannabis supply ring was targeted because of the harm the drug causes in the community.

“Synthetic cannabis causes harm to local communities and in this case we believe it was being supplied across the North Island.”

Police and fisheries officers search a lunch bar as part of an investigation into an alleged synthetic cannabis supply ring. Photo/Alan Gibson.
Police and fisheries officers search a lunch bar as part of an investigation into an alleged synthetic cannabis supply ring. Photo/Alan Gibson.
Police and fisheries officers search a lunch bar as part of an investigation into an alleged synthetic cannabis supply ring. Photo/Alan Gibson.
Police and fisheries officers search a lunch bar as part of an investigation into an alleged synthetic cannabis supply ring. Photo/Alan Gibson.

The raids mark the first operation by the Tauranga-based National Organised Crime Group.

They come as Parliament considers harsher penalties for those who supply synthetic cannabis.

Under the current law, manufacturing or possessing psychoactive substances for sale and supply carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.

A bill to raise the maximum penalty to eight years passed its first reading in Parliament last month with the support of National and NZ First.

This would bring the maximum sentence into line with supplying a Class-C drug, such as cannabis.

The private member’s bill of National MP Simeon Brown – opposed by Labour, the Greens and Act – has now been referred to select committee.

The bid to change the law is supported by the parents of a 22-year-old Auckland man whose addiction to synthetic cannabis killed him.

Calum Jones died in his family home last September – one of at least 25 deaths in 2017 linked to psychoactive substances.

However, critics say there is no evidence increasing penalties will reduce supply, or demand, of synthetic cannabis.

Synthetic drugs became illegal in 2014 following public concern about “legal highs” – designer drugs which mimicked the effects of cannabis – being sold in dairies.

Manufacturers of “legal highs” were making millions of dollars in a market which was completely unregulated.

Responding to public reaction, the government created a market where manufacturers had to prove the substances were ‘low risk’ with clinical testing.
Some were allowed to stay on shelves with an “interim exemption” but these were pulled after public outcry.

No manufacturers have carried on with clinical testing of products – which cost at least $2 million – since the amendment to the Psychoactive Substances Act in 2014

The ban pushed synthetic drugs underground and created a blackmarket with fatal consequences, according to new research.

The Hummer will be restrained under the Criminal Proceeds Recovery Act. Photo/Alan Gibson.
The Hummer will be restrained under the Criminal Proceeds Recovery Act. Photo/Alan Gibson.

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