Hard News by Russell Brown


Dude, what just happened?

Switched On Gardener, the police have told the Herald, "would not have turned a profit if it hadn't been knowingly supplying equipment and advice to cannabis growers."

No shit. If the name didn't tip you off, perhaps the chain's logo – a marijuana leaf – might have clarified things. And this has been the case for nearly 20 years. Perhaps the force might have nailed this one quicker if they'd been 95bFM listeners.

Joking aside, I hope we find out why the police chose to change tack and stage such a major investigation – two years under cover, we're told – and crackdown on S.O.G. and other retailers who certainly had reason to believe they had permission to trade, if only through years of precedent.

If the owners or staff of these stores did either take part in commercial growing enterprises, or provide seedlings or marijuana over the counter, they did very obviously cross a line – although an email sent to Campbell Live and reposted in this forum on the Norml site emphatically denied "the claims of the police that cannabis and or other drugs where [sic] sold on site with the knowledge of upper management."

I'd be surprised if it were common. And the sheer scale of the police operation suggests it wasn't prompted by the odd incident of small-scale dealing. So was it decided that the trade had simply become too big to ignore? Or did the police simply decide it was good way to detect and prosecute commercial growers – some of whom were likely to also be in possession of other illegal drugs?

It would also be interesting to know why the police chose to bring home a two-year investigation this particular week. This isn't just any week: it's the week of J Day, Norml's annual smoke-in protest in several New Zealand centres and more than 200 cities around the world.

In recent years, the police have shied away from arresting cannabis law reform activists – the activists don't much mind being arrested if it gives them a soapbox, and it's generally a lot more bother than busting some kid on the street. It's hard not to wonder whether the force is making a point with the timing of this bust.

So what happens next? I gather one shop selling smoking supplies has had a consignment of vapourisers (which provide the least injurious means of inhalation) held by Customs while others have been let through.

I wouldn't expect this to interrupt the supply of cannabis in any meaningful way, although the threat of being followed by the cops will probably deter the suburban dweller who wants to grow a few plants in the wardrobe.

There is, after all, a very large demand for the product. And that underlies the great irony of the trade upon which the police have now cracked down: it was the creation of law enforcement.

Expensive aerial policing in the 70s and 80s raised the risk of outdoor growing to the point where it went indoors – creating a new product that was stronger, and possibly riskier for users. What it didn't do was stop people using cannabis.

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