While governments around the world legalise the growing and consumption of cannabis, and cannabis growing facilities are being developed on the north coast of NSW itself, yesterday the police arrested four men and seized nearly $22 million worth of cannabis. They also dismantled 20 large-scale industrial grow houses at the site near Lismore.
In November 2019, detectives from the State Crime Command’s Drug and Firearms Squad established Strike Force Harthouse to investigate the cultivation and supply of cannabis across NSW.
Their inquiries uncovered a remote 120-acre property near Lismore being used for the large-scale cultivation of cannabis.
Following extensive investigations, strike force detectives executed a crime scene warrant at the property on Bungawalbin Whiporie Road, Gibberagee, about 52km south-east of Lismore, from 9am yesterday (Wednesday, 10 June, 2020).
Detectives were assisted throughout the operation by officers from Richmond Police District, Northern Region Enforcement Squad, the Dog Unit, Police Rescue and the NSW Rural Fire Service.
No public accountability
Echonetdaily asked NSW police what the cost of operation Strike Force Harthouse was so far. A NSW police spokesperson responded stating that, ‘Unfortunately, we do not provide cost breakdowns attached to investigations’.
7,200 cannabis plants
Investigators located and seized 7,200 cannabis plants, and about 50kg of cannabis head, with an estimated potential street value of $21.6 million.
Four men – aged 20, 34, 35 and 37 – were arrested at the property and taken to Lismore Police Station.
All four were charged with cultivate prohibited plant (large commercial quantity) and participate criminal group contribute criminal activity.
Police will allege in court that the men were involved in the large-scale cultivation of cannabis.
The men were charged and are all due to appear at Lismore Local Court today (Thursday, 11 June, 2020).
Investigators are working with the Department of Home Affairs regarding the visa status of the group.
NSW police force state crime commander, assistant commissioner Stuart Smith, said strike force investigators have successfully dismantled an organised criminal syndicate operating across the state.
‘Since the inception of Strike Force Harthouse, investigators have dismantled three rural properties being used for cannabis cultivation, charged 12 people and seized cannabis worth more than $41 million,’ he said.
‘The Drug and Firearms Squad have a dedicated investigative response to cannabis cultivation and by using intelligence to target known cultivation sites, we receive further information to conduct investigations into supply chains.
‘Criminals who profit from cultivating these drugs are often known to re-invest funds into other criminal enterprises that directly impact the communities of NSW,’ assistant commissioner Smith said.
Drug and firearms squad commander, detective superintendent John Watson, said yesterday’s seizure is an example of police targeting the networks behind cultivation and supply.
‘This seizure is the largest industrial grow-house cannabis crop located by NSW police since 2010 – with officers successfully removing 7200 plants worth nearly $22 million from the property,’ he said.
‘Several thousand of these plants were mature and ready for harvest and were located by detectives inside 20 industrial grow houses – each equivalent to the size of an Olympic swimming pool.
‘The property itself was used solely for the purpose of cannabis cultivation and was bordered by the Bungawalbin National Park, where the environment can be challenging for police.
‘While there are indications that yesterday’s seizure may be linked to other sites uncovered in Northern NSW, inquiries into the operations of these suspected criminal syndicates are continuing.
‘These arrests should send a strong message to criminals using regional NSW to grow cannabis crops that you will not go unnoticed,’ Det Supt Watson said.
Investigations by the Drug and Firearms Squad are continuing.