Central Otago’s Drug Bust a Year in the Making

Central Otago’s Drug Bust a Year in the Making

It also takes me one year to do anything significant

Operation Vintage commenced in March of last year following a concerning increase of drugs and drug-related harm in Cromwell. Three men are facing charges for the sale and supply of cannabis and methamphetamines, and the unlawful possession of firearms. Properties were raided in Cromwell, Tarras, and the Haast area.

Criminal Investigations Detective Inspector Shona Low shared that Police considered this operation as targeting a “commercial crime group” with the aim of disrupting “a significant illicit campaign” in the area. “This is not about personal use or low-level offending, this is about large-scale operations who profit from considerable harm.” Police are currently in the process of seizing the cannabis plants that are dotted across an area greater than 8km. Plots were found on DOC and Crown Lease land.

A couple of self-described stoner second-years, Jonas* and Adam*, Critic Te Ārohi spoke to said that they’d heard about the bust via friends involved with drug-related harm reduction initiatives and through news articles. They described the news as “interesting” and were aware it could have an impact in the cannabis-using community here. Adam wasn’t worried about the supply in the immediate future but did think the supply will dry up sooner than it has in other years. “Personally, I think it’s probably better if everyone smoked weed rather than drinking, but obviously it’s a lot more complicated than that,” said Jonas. Indeed it is.

A want for harm-reduction overall was reflected in the statement from Low, who said, “This commercial operation was designed to make money for those running it, with no regard for the harm it caused to people at the other end.” Police have linked the large scale of the group’s cannabis operation and its resulting profits to their ability to supply the more harmful drug of methamphetamine. They also link the subsequent wealth, and social media as a danger to young people, with the press release saying: “They flaunt their wealth through social media, attracting young people into their lifestyle.”

Adam agreed that social media in a close-knit community could be a gateway to become involved in criminal activity: “If you see someone online flaunting the benefits and you know that that person is associated with that business, you’re going to be like, ‘That’s a good business to get into.’”

Operation Vintage is still in progress, with Low saying, “Our enquiries are ongoing, but I’m confident these arrests will go a long way to making our communities safer. It also sends the message that organised crime is not welcome here.”

*Names changed.

This article first appeared in Issue 9, 2023.
Posted 3:33pm Sunday 30th April 2023 by Jamiema Lorimer .