New Zealanders are taking advantage of the current ideal growing conditions and planting cannabis crops early, say police.
Cannabis growing season typically kicks off in November and lasts until around April, but perfect weather has seen Northland police already confiscate and destroy 350 plants from a major plantation north of Kaitaia.
The significantly-sized plot was found earlier this month and the metre-high cannabis plants, protected by a fence made of chicken wire, were destroyed by police.
Last cannabis growing season Northland police destroyed 34,428 plants and made 47 arrests.
Northland's expansive native bush is an ideal place for cannabis plots as it provided shelter and cover from the inquisitive eyes of the authorities.
A Northlander found guilty of cultivating more than 1000 cannabis plants with a street value of up to $1.2 million has been jailed.
Guy Bartlett, 45, appeared in the Whangarei District Court for sentencing after he was earlier found guilty by a jury on one charge of cultivating 1078 cannabis plants early last year.
Bartlett was arrested during the three-month police Operation Dee where outdoor cannabis growing operations were targeted. Bartlett's 13 plots on Pouto Peninsula contained a total of 1078 plants.
Crown prosecutor Justin Wall said Bartlett cultivated cannabis on an industrial scale and his offending should attract a starting point of between five and five and a half years.
Barttlett's lawyer Sumudu Thode said his difficult upbringing contributed to his offending and he needed to address his cannabis use.
Judge Duncan Harvey said it was not clear whether Bartlett, a cannabis user, was alone in the drug cultivation on 13 plots.
He said each plot was surrounded by mesh wire, fishing net, and small fence-like structure where gin traps were laid to attract possums.
It was clearly a sophisticated outdoor cultivation designed to achieve a maximum haul, Judge Harvey said.
He found it interesting police found no evidence of cannabis use in Bartlett's house, given he smoked cannabis.
Bartlett has been assessed as at a modest risk of reoffending and at a moderate risk of harm to others.
Judge Harvey said it was clear Bartlett had experienced a very difficult childhood and lived an isolated life.
He is in a long-term relationship and has a daughter who was present in court to support him.
"You say you have a drug problem and you wish to do something about it. You say you feel better having not smoke cannabis for some time," Judge Harvey said.
He could not understand why Bartlett took the case to trial because he did not have a defence.
Bartlett was a good member of the community and father, Judge Harvey said, and it was a shame it has come to this.
He sentenced him to four and a half years in jail.
Shares in Creso Pharma have soared after the Australian cannabis company announced an expansion into China's $40b health food market.
Creso says it has signed a commercial partnership with Chinese hemp producer Zhejiang Kingdom Creative, which will purchase and import the company's animal and human health hemp- and cannabis-derived products into the local Chinese market.
The announcement of the deal sparked a sharp rise in Creso shares, which were up 12 cents, or 14.6 per cent to 94 cents at 1031 AEDT on Monday.
Kingdom Creative, which is primarily a hemp and flax-based linen production company, will also build a health food, nutraceuticals, body care and cosmetic company, allowing Creso further access and scale in China.
Under the move, the two companies will collaborate on research and development as well as the distribution of hemp- and cannabis-based nutraceutical, cosmetics and body care products across China, Creso said.
The medicinal cannabis company has opened four offices across China to build a sales and marketing presence and further local distribution options in China for its products.
"It will also enable Creso to rapidly expand into other Asian markets," the company said in a statement on Monday.
The Chinese health food market - which includes vitamins, dietary supplements, animal and herbal extracts and traditional Chinese medicine, is currently valued at $39.6 billion and is projected to grow by 10 per cent every year between now and 2025.
Creso said sales for medical cannabis in China are expected to grow with the country progressively opening up legislation to allow hemp-based and medical cannabis products to be available to patients.
Chief executive and co-founder Dr Miri Halperin Wernli said the partnership was a great opportunity to work with a well-established organisation in the market and would give Creso a strategic foothold in China and Asia.
The company also said it was in "advanced discussions" with other Asian pharmaceutical and cosmetic groups to make its products available to Asian consumers and patients.
As United Future shuts down, its leader fears any chance of legalising cannabis will stall.
Damian Light said for him personally, United Future's biggest achievement was the drug reform measures that were implemented during its time in government.
"It's unfinished though, that's the problem. It needs to be carried on, and that's one of our concerns, is who's going to carry it on," the United Future leader told The AM Show.
"Labour doesn't seem very interested, they've not given it to the Greens and we know the Greens are the ones with the drug reform experience and understanding."
Deaths from so-called synthetic cannabis showed why the matter needed to be pursued.
"We need to be actually taking this forward, we need to be having further conversations about it. We need to be looking at legalising and regulating real cannabis, recreational cannabis," Light said.
"It absolutely has to be done. It's proven to be low risk. We need to move it into the regulated space."
United Future's lone MP Peter Dunne decided to quit politics in August, just a month out from the general election. Polling in his Ohariu electorate had convinced him voters were in a mood for change.
United Future was unable to win any electorate seats in the September election and picked up fewer than 1800 party votes.
"We had a lot of people saying to us this time they didn't like the party because we went with National even though we'd previously gone with Labour, and would have gone with Labour again if Labour had got in, which they did," Light said.
"We've always said we will work with the government of the day, but people have got very short memories."
United Future said its 15 years in government, working with Labour and then National, was the longest continuous role in New Zealand government for 100 years.
Light said the decision to close down the party was bittersweet.
"We've been looking at the party, thinking about our future, reflecting on how things have gone over the last 15 years.
"We're really proud of where we've come from, and what we've done, what we've achieved but, at the same time, we've decided that it's time to call it a day, and so it's time to retire the party," he said.
Personally, he had always had an interest in politics and wanted to stay around, but hadn't been looking at his future, Light said.
United Future members might look at forming a rebranded party.
Light was asked if he was planning to set up a new party that would look for an electoral accommodation with National to get it over the line at the next election.
"My view is we don't look to support a particular party. We might look at setting up another party, that's an option. There are other parties out there as well," Light said.
He said he always felt uncomfortable about electoral accommodations.
The Dangerous Drugs Act was passed in 1927, and rallies to get rid of the law were held on Saturday in Auckland, Wellington and Nelson.
Nelson rally organizer, Kelly Patchett said November 11 marked 90 years since the Dangerous Drugs Act was passed, making the use of cannabis illegal in New Zealand.
Patchett, along with a woman dressed as a green fairy, was handing out leaflets and booklets with information about the medicinal uses for cannabis.
It follows the recent prosecution of Rose Renton, who is known as a "green fairy", a term used to describe cannabis growers and suppliers who help patients on compassionate grounds.
Patchett said people like Renton "risked their lives" and freedom, and it was time for the government to move quickly as 90 years' prohibition was enough.
"We know the government is willing to make changes, it's just not making them fast enough," she said.
The new government has signalled it will hold a referendum on the issue, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she wants to take advice before that happens.
Patchett said the referendum couldn't come soon enough for those suffering from chronic pain.
"Many of the patients who use cannabis have been through the pharmaceuticals process, so they're not just saying 'I don't want to use them, I want to use this'," she said.
Patchett had previously been on a large amount of strong opiates, using "uppers and downers" for chronic pain related to fibromyalgia. She said they didn't "touch the sides" of her pain and kept her as a "zombie".
"That was not a quality of life for myself or my children."
She said self-medicating with cannabis provided a way for patients to micro-dose, without getting stoned, through a capsule, balm or cookie.
"People just need to know how to use it. I think it's the mentality of 'everyone just smokes and that's why it's bad, because of the carcinogenics', but in actual fact the majority of people I know would prefer to use it in edibles and medicines."
She hoped by holding an awareness-raising event she could talk to people about why they made a big "hoo-ha" about it.
Unless people had lived with chronic pain, it was hard for them to understand.
"You talk to any patients, or any fairies, and it's a really emotional situation because they think we're just talking about a plant, but we're actually talking about people's lives."
She said they wanted to educate people ahead of a referendum, particularly regarding the compounds in cannabis and the importance of using the whole plant.
People are still being prosecuted for treating themselves with a plant that stops them from dying and that's the wrongness because the only other options are pharmaceuticals.
Auckland rally organiser Chris Fowlie says countries that have legalised the drug don't have the same synthetic abuse problems that New Zealand has.
"When you ban things you push it underground and make it more dangerous," he told Newshub.
"You can see that not only with synthetics, but natural cannabis itself where you have medical users who are forced to go to gang-run tinny shops to get their cannabis."
The death of a Hutt Valley man last week may be linked to synthetic drug use, with police making multiple seizes and arrests in the area.
"If we want to make it safer for people… you have to regulate it," said Mr Fowlie.
The Government will hold a referendum to legalise personal use of cannabis by the 2020 election.
"We have a new Government and a new way of thinking, and we are really looking forward to medical cannabis being legalised and for the country having a really good discussion over the next couple of years," said Mr Fowlie.
Synthetic drugs can be up to 50 times stronger than natural cannabis, experts say, with the average product on offer around 10 to 15 times stronger.
"Even a single smoke of synthetic is the equivalent of up to 15 normal joints. This is why the effect is so very different and so very dangerous," says Wellington Hospital emergency medicine specialist Dr Paul Quigley.
- stuff.co.nz - newshub.co.nz