A licensed hemp grower on the East Coast has had his trial hemp crop stolen by Police.
Tikitiki resident Willie Kaa is part of a collective of growers working with Hikurangi Hemp to develop medical cannabis products from industrial hemp plantations.
Mr Kaa recently planted 16 hemp cultivars supplied by Hikurangi Hemp as part of a strategy to build local industry and employment opportunities on the East Coast. The trial crop was planted on Rangitukia Station just north of Ruatoria.
“Willie put a lot of effort into this trial – he had to spend money and a lot of time preparing a suitable site, applying for the Industrial Hemp License from Medicines Control at the Ministry of Health and even organising visits from the local Police officer to inspect the site. We then provided training and provided plants after Willie spent long hours digging the holes, fertilising the ground, staking the plants and organising irrigation.
Yesterday a Police drug squad from outside the region came into the area and raided Mr Kaa’s property, removing all 16 plants and leaving no information on what they had done or why they had acted in an unlawful way by removing an agricultural crop that was being grown legally.
“Local Police have since offered apologies on behalf of their colleagues, but this situation is very concerning” said Mr Caddie. “We are trying to develop a new industry with a huge amount of regulatory hurdles, technical challenges and financial barriers – the last thing legitimate growers need is this kind of cavalier fly-boy approach by a small group of public servants who are supposed to enforce the law, not break it.”
Mr Caddie said he understood the officers involved mistook the plants for illicit varieties of cannabis but that explanation was not good enough.
“We need absolute assurance that Police internal communications are water-tight on licensed growers. We are growing crops worth millions of dollars and need to know they are not at risk from Police incompetence and poor information sharing.”
“It is of great importance that Police drug squads not be allowed onto any more hemp crops. The risk of cross contamination from other plants is way too high. They could literally contaminate all crops just by accidentally bringing pollen on-site. They could have already contaminated the hemp crops they have visited in our area. If they contaminate our main growing site at Ihungia this week it would destroy our business that is based on specific genetic strains bred for specific cannabinoid profiles.”
Mr Caddie said licensed growers and their growing sites had to be visited by local Police officers before licenses were granted and even in that process there were mistakes and long delays.
“License applications are passed from the Ministry of Health to Police national headquarters but from there it seems like a lottery as to whether your application gets passed on to the right people. In our case many local licenses sat on desks in various levels of the Police organisation while staff were on leave or just didn’t prioritise passing the information on to the local staff who need it to check with the growers before applications can be approved.”
In one case a grower was unable to be located by the local Police officer because his colleagues up the line had passed on incomplete information, in another case a local grower received a license for someone growing in the South Island.
Mr Caddie said there needed to be accountability for what had happened as Mr Kaa and his whanau were now going to be well behind in their growing for the season and it may be too late given the hot, dry weather.
“We will be encouraging Willie to notify the Director General of Health as required under Section 38 of the Industrial Hemp Regulations that plants have been removed without authority and request the Police Commissioner investigate both the incident and the systems failure that seem to have led to this unacceptable situation.”
Mr Caddie said it was a sad irony that the incident took place on the same day the Government announced plans to allow medical cannabis to be grown in New Zealand and with a crop that could have been used in some of the first New Zealand products available to New Zealand patients.