Even as the push for cannabis legalization escalates around the world, Australian police recently arrested four men and confiscated cannabis worth nearly $22 million. They also brought down 20 large-scale industrial grow houses found on the site near Lismore, NSW.
Investigation of cannabis grow in NSW
In late 2019, detectives from the Drug and Firearms Squad of the State Crime Command launched Strike Force Harthouse to investigate the cannabis grow and supply across NSW. Through inquiries, they discovered a far-flung 120-acre property near Lismore, which was used for the large-scale growing of cannabis.
The authorities launched extensive investigations and on Wednesday June 10, the strike force detectives executed a crime scene warrant at the site. A team of officers from Richmond Police District, Northern Region Enforcement Squad, the Dog Unit, and the NSW Rural Fire Service also joined the operation to raid the property located on Bungawalbin Whipore Road, Gibberagee, some 52km south-east of Lismore.
During the raid, investigators discovered and impounded 7,200 cannabis plants and nearly 50kg of cannabis head with an estimated street value of about $21.6 million. Four men aged 20, 34, 35, and 37 were also arrested at the site and taken to Lismore Police Station. The four were arraigned in court yesterday (Thursday, June 11), charged with cultivating a prohibited plant in large commercial quantity and participating in criminal group.
Following the raid, investigators are collaborating with the Department of Home Affairs to assess the visa status of the group.
Stuart Smith is an assistant commissioner to NSW police force crime commander. Regarding the raid, he said the strike force investigators had successfully dismantled an organized criminal group 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. 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, Smith said.
Commissioner Smith also added that criminals use the proceeds from cannabis cultivation to finance other criminal activities and enterprises, which “directly impact the communities of NSW.”
On his part, Drug and Firearms Squad commander and detective superintendent John Watson said the seizure in Lismore was an example of police targeting the networks of cannabis cultivation and supply. He emphasized that the raid was the largest industrial grow-house cannabis crop discovered by NSW police since 2010.
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…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.