Northland police aren't ruling out continued use of helicopters to find cannabis — but say their main focus will be on methamphetamine and synthetic drugs.
Last week police announced an end to the nationwide aerial operations that used choppers or planes to find cannabis plantations and in some cases spray them with dye and herbicide.
The operations took place every year towards the end of summer, just before harvest.
Individual police districts, however, will still have access to funding for helicopter operations if they wish to continue.
The Far North's top cop, Inspector Riki Whiu, wouldn't rule out future use of helicopters for drug spotting, and said the change didn't mean an end to cannabis recovery operations.
However, police would focus on the most harmful drugs such as methamphetamine and synthetics.
The change in strategy would also help police combat drugs year-round instead of holding a single large operation once a year.
''The money that would go into a single operation will be diverted into a more consistent approach over the whole 12 months. While our focus is on methamphetamine and synthetics, we certainly won't be taking our foot off the pedal regarding commercial cannabis operations that are profiting from harm,'' Whiu said.
Aerial operations were still a possibility in Northland but police could choose other tactics instead.
''It's whatever method will give us the best result.''
Whiu said the new national policy gave police greater flexibility to focus on different drugs and different times of year, while still giving each district access to national tactical support, including choppers.
The shift away from large-scale cannabis operations, which use up a lot of money and staff time, has been welcomed by the Drug Foundation — as long as resources are used to combat Northland's methamphetamine epidemic.
The foundation said a new approach by Northland police to methamphetamine users, emphasising treatment over enforcement, had already shown some signs of success.
Public health provider Hāpai Te Hauora also welcomed the change, saying previous approaches to policing cannabis had disproportionately affected Māori.