Four men stood side by side in the dock at Whangārei District Court when they appeared on drugs charges relating to discovery of 4000 cannabis plants in five greenhouses.
In what Northland police say is one of the largest cannabis growing operations found in the region in recent years more than 20 staff, including from the Northland District and the Financial Crime Group, executed a search warrant at a property on Oturei Settlement Rd, near Aratapu, Dargaville, on January 16.
During the raid five greenhouses filled with more than 4000 plants were discovered, some of which were seized and the others sprayed with weed killer in a blue dye.
The property, about 10km southeast of Dargaville, was put into lockdown while the police team worked in the area for three days.
Appearing before Judge Deidre Orchard on Wednesday the four men were Dang Gia Cu, 45, address unknown, Nhat Quan Nguyen, 20, of Mount Wellington in Auckland, Minh Nhat Nguyen, 24, of Clover Park Auckland, and Chu Trong Thanh, 44, address unknown. They were jointly charged with possession of cannabis for supply and cultivating cannabis.
Auckland-based lawyer Harrison Bell told the judge he was appearing on behalf of lawyer Belinda Sellars who had been instructed in the last few days that she would be representing the four men.
Four Northland lawyers had been appointed previously but were given leave to withdraw officially, except Julie Young, who said she was waiting for written confirmation that was the case.
An interpreter stood in the court and explained the proceedings to the quartet standing in the dock. They were remanded in custody without plea until February 24 when it was expected they would enter pleas.
Following the discovery of the cannabis operation Northland police posted on their Facebook page which drew varying public views and strong commentary.
A number of people supported the view of Simone Frewin who posted a comment saying: "What an absolute waste of one of the most effective pain relief medications known to man!"
Nathan Bishop posted: "A terrible result, waste of time, expenses and effort. Do the job we pay you for and fight real crime rather than a plant that is used for recreational use far less dangerous than alcohol and medical use that helps people's lives immensely. This doesn't make you look good, especially when it's about to be legalised anyway."
Offering another viewpoint was Felicity Jessica who said: "Drugs are still drugs, they are illegal, good work nz police."
Thiana Blair posted: "Wow amazing how many people are missing the point. Right now cannabis is illegal. So until such time as it is made no longer illegal then the police are doing their jobs. It's not up to us to tell police they are doing the wrong thing...they are following the law."
In response Northland Detective Senior Sergeant Geoff McCarthy said in general, the large scale manufacturing of cannabis is driven by organised crime groups and gangs with the intention of selling the drugs to make a profit.
"In the majority of cases these organised crime groups will also deal in methamphetamine and other drugs that cause tremendous harm in our communities. They prey on vulnerable communities and families suffer as a result."
McCarthy said the seizure in this case was part of a wider operation targeting not only the large-scale cultivation of cannabis for sale, but methamphetamine dealers and providers, psychoactive substances, as well as illegal firearms and other proceeds of crime.