We may still be the country's cannabis production hub, but statistics show Northlanders are smoking less of one of the region's most famous exports.

Police yesterday released the results of the nationwide Operation Dee - a six-month blitz which saw more than 132,000 plants destroyed nationally, with 68,499 of them found in Northland.

Some of the 68,499 cannabis plants destroyed by Northland police during a nationwide drug operation this year. Photo / Alexandra Newlove
Some of the 68,499 cannabis plants destroyed by Northland police during a nationwide drug operation this year. Photo / Alexandra Newlove

Despite this result, Whangarei MP Shane Reti said statistics pointed to a region that was using significantly less cannabis. It was time, he said, for the region to shake its reputation as the country's "drug capital".

As of 2014, the most recent year for which Statistics New Zealand had figures, Northland ranked fourth for cannabis use per capita behind Auckland, Bay of Plenty and Eastern Districts, he said. This compared with 2008, when the region ranked first.


"The old perception is old news and no longer supported by the data - we are not the drug capital of New Zealand," said Mr Reti.

Cannabis use per capita in Northland dropped nearly 57 per cent between 2008 and 2014, Mr Reti said. However, he said, drug use was an ongoing problem, particularly where people were losing their jobs as a result of random drug testing.

He said the continued policing of cannabis was important given it harmed users as well as those affected by the drug's associated crime.

"There is also good evidence of the association between drug and alcohol use and family violence, all of which needs to stop," Mr Reti said.

Detective Inspector John Miller, who headed the Northland arm of Operation Dee, said this year's haul was "not unusual". "We tend to get a lot up this way ... The climate is good for growing cannabis," he said.

Northland's results included two of the biggest cannabis busts in the region for at least two decades - one at Hokianga yielding 1188 plants and another at Pouto Peninsula where 1080 plants were found.

Detective Inspector Craig Scott headed the national operation and said police saw the cultivation and dealing of cannabis as a "gateway" to other criminal activity.

Northland was also over-represented in the number of firearms seized during the operation. Of the 173 seized across the 12 policing districts during Operation Dee, 41 were found in Northland.

During the Northland cannabis operation, a group of "legalise" protesters smoked the drug in the Whangarei courthouse carpark without a single cop car turning up.

The next week the group of five, calling themselves the Roaring Lions Cannabis Community, grew to 30 and targeted a city park - again without a police presence. The next week police arrested four people when the group sparked up again in Laurie Hall Park.

Group spokeswoman Melissa Brown said policing the drug was a waste of resources.

"There are people locked up for this when it should be a health issue, not a criminal issue," she said.

Te Tai Tokerau MP and Labour corrections spokesman Kelvin Davis said he had "no love whatsoever for any form of drug". Despite this, he was starting to question whether the cannabis use was more or less harmful than arresting and imprisoning people for its use.

He said more research was needed and that parliamentary discussion was based around the use of medical marijuana.