Every time local papers publish a story about a cannabis operation bust, comments from the community follow a predictable course.
People want to know why the police are bothering about dope when the real problem is ice.
While it can’t be denied that the Mid North Coast appears to have as much of an issue with methylamphetamine (ice) abuse as other regional communities, we are not a hotspot for cultivation said Chief Inspector Guy Flaherty.
He said outlaw motorcycle gangs are still one of the largest players in the supply and distribution of ice along the east coast, with supply lines originating from outside the region and making use of the Pacific Highway.
However, it would be naive to think there aren’t any meth labs here.
The biggest problem police face tackling the manufacture of methylamphetamine is the ephemeral nature of a ‘cook’; makeshift labs crop up overnight, often in short-term rented premises, and sometimes – a la Breaking Bad – in mobile units like caravans and buses.
The whole procedure lasts around 72 hours and then the operation moves on.
This perpetual motion is why it is far less likely that a meth lab will be the target of a police raid than a commercial hydroponic cannabis operation, which requires months of set-up and cultivation.
“Police are very aware of the methodology used by people. That’s why we’re interested in any information members of the public can provide in relation to any odd or unusual smells in their neighbourhood,” Insp Flaherty said.
“Police rely on information and seek the assistance from the public when they believe a premise or vehicle is being used to supply prohibited drugs.
“This information is always assessed, and whilst may not immediately show a response, may form part of other investigations.”
Because of the difficulties associated with ferreting out the cooks, police often use a variety of other means to target the scourge of ice in the community.
One of those methods is to focus on distribution and supply chains which, Insp Flaherty said, are more often than not tied up with other illicit drugs like cannabis.
He said when police raid a commercial hydroponic cannabis set-up, they will often find that “these premises have been used for the cultivation or supply of other drugs”.
He also said there have been times where a dealer has laced a batch of cannabis with another illicit and highly addictive substance like ice or speed in order to artificially create demand and dependence on those products.
“There is evidence in some circles that cannabis is used as a gateway drug to other more serious drugs,” he said.
Positive test results at roadside mobile drug testing units also often lead to valuable intelligence about local supply chains.
Regardless of personal views about recreational cannabis use, the reality is that the cultivation of cannabis remains a criminal offence under the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act, and is often inextricably linked to the cultivation and supply of other illicit substances.
And police will continue to enforce these laws until the NSW government passes changes to current legislation.