The cannabis trade in Southland and Otago took a hit today as police arrested five people believed to be central to a multi-million dollar syndicate.

The arrests are the last blow delivered by Operation Canary, which came to an end today after four years targeting large-scale commercial cannabis growing operations.

The five people, whom police have described as being from "all walks of life', will be facing a number of charges relating to the cultivation and sale of cannabis in a drug operation police believe has been underway for 20 years.

Since Operation Canary began in Western Southland, police have recovered cannabis with an estimated street value of around $4.5 million.


"These investigations contributed to a picture that has uncovered an organised criminal cannabis growing syndicate, involving millions of dollars, operated by people from Invercargill and Queenstown. It appears that the operation had been ongoing for years, if not decades," said Southern District Crime Services Manager, Detective Inspector Steve McGregor.

He said the 30 police involved were "extremely happy" with how the operation had gone, despite being particularly difficult given the nature of the terrain.

"It's a pretty remote area so it's been a pretty difficult operation in that respect, but it's the tenacity of the group that's got us through.

But while the team is satisfied that the operation has had a significant impact on the cannabis industry in the district, McGregor says it is no excuse to get complacent.

"Once you catch a group like this who have been dealing large quantities for a long period of time, you can't sit back and expect that your work is done.

"It's helped us to identify a lot of associated issues, and proven a catalyst for future operations.

"We are working the hardest we can