An elderly man who walked into a Tauranga court aided by a single metal crutch is the mastermind behind a purpose-built, large-scale cannabis operation at his home.
John Banks Price, 81, pleaded guilty to cultivating cannabis, selling or supplying cannabis plant, and possession of cannabis plant for supply when he appeared in the Tauranga District Court before Judge Christopher Harding yesterday.
According to the 11-page police summary of facts, Price told police he had been stockpiling cannabis head material with the intention of selling it to pay for a wheelchair and a $100,000 back operation.
The summary, obtained by the Bay of Plenty Times with permission from Judge Harding, revealed police discovered Price's "sophisticated and well-equipped" cannabis growing operations when they searched his Ōhauiti Rd home on June 20.
During the search, police found 364 cannabis plants and multiple growing operations in a tent, a large shed and a ceiling cavity, as well as more than 2.7kg of cannabis head material. The value was between $21,000 and $30,000.
Based on estimated plant yields and the estimated price per ounce, police said Price could have yielded between $86,650 and $260,000 a year from his growing operation.
Inside a large shed, police found an extensive cannabis-growing operation, with partitioned off walls and doors installed to create three separate growing areas.
Also inside the shed was a large professionally made growing tent, set up with LED growing lights on a timer and nine large "mother" plants, about 50cm to 90cm tall.
The mother plants were labelled with various letters or numbers to signify different strains of cannabis plants, which were being used to take cuttings to grow further clones.
Inside three trays were 128 clone plants also growing under lights and each had a name tag corresponding with the names of the mother plants. There were also five hydroponic channel trays running the length of the tent to feed nutrients to the plants, and a series of lights and fans on various timers.
Price's growing operation, which police said would have taken considerable time and expense to set up, included a hydroponic growing system containing 26 plants about 79cm tall in the front half of the tent, and another 35 about 60cm tall nearing maturity in the back.
There were also 24 pots containing a cut cannabis stump, which appeared recently harvested.
Behind a desk in the shed were two large polythene bags containing 2kg of low-quality cannabis leaf material.
Also in the ceiling cavity above the library in the house were two further cannabis growing rooms accessed by a drop-down ladder and two insulated lined cabinets.
Inside both cabinets was a wall fan fitted with large air-duct tubing that exited through the ceiling into the library below, and one was plumbed with a water line and tape.
Police found a total of 2891g of dried cannabis leaf in bags in the ceiling and library, along with two sets of electronic scales and documents titled 'Groweasyweed'.
Inside the lounge was a bundle of notes totalling $23,459.
Police said Price's cannabis-growing operation was "sophisticated and well-equipped", and the 364 plants he had grown were "well-nurtured and tended".
When he was interviewed in June, Price told police he had been growing cannabis firstly in the ceiling grow rooms and then two years ago from the shed.
He explained that the total set-up cost was at least $20,000 and over that time he had given cannabis away to his friends.
Price also said he had not sold any cannabis but was stockpiling the cannabis head material to sell later in the year when the price improved.
He said he intended saving the proceeds to buy a $3500 wheelchair and pay for a back operation which he estimated would cost about $100,000, and believed it would take two to three years to grow enough to save the money.
In court, Price admitted the charges through his lawyer Paul Devoy. He was granted bail pending sentencing on September 14. He is not a first-time offender before the courts.
Judge Harding said he was calling for a home detention report out of "an abundance of caution", but told Price it was not an indication of the sentencing outcome.
"Mr Price needs to arrange his affairs," Judge Harding told Devoy.