Despite the rise of P, cannabis is showing no sign of disappearing and remains a lucrative illicit trade, police say.
Their comments come a day after a $1 million marijuana bust in the Bay of Plenty, where almost 1000 plants were discovered growing in plots camouflaged by maize.
The biggest plot stretched several acres and contained 613 mature plants, almost 2 metres tall, which had a street value of between $750,000 and $1 million, police said.
The site, in the hills between Tauranga's Welcome Bay and Papamoa, also showed evidence of being guarded, with a lookout built in a tree.
No arrests have been made but 377 less-mature plants were also found in three nearby plots.
The haul, though big, was only the third largest in the Bay of Plenty in recent weeks.
This time of year is the traditional harvest season for cannabis growers and also the time police mount big operations to stem the flow of the drug on to the streets.
National statistics on seizures this year are still being compiled but Detective Senior Sergeant Scott McGill, co-ordinator of the national cannabis crime operation, said there appeared to be no let-up in the amount of marijuana being grown.
"It's not decreasing," he said.
Nor did he believe the prevalence of P and police attention on methamphetamine manufacturers was discouraging cannabis growers.
"Most cannabis growers realise we do an operation every year targeting cannabis cultivators so I don't think they would be thinking that resources have gone elsewhere."
Bay of Plenty crime services manager Detective Inspector Rob Jones said marijuana had "never gone out of vogue" and Detective Sergeant Darryl Brazier, former head of Auckland's organised crime squad and now based in Tauranga, said there would always be demand for the drug.
"So there will always be a supply. It certainly hasn't gone away."
Mr McGill said marijuana remained a "very lucrative source of income" for criminals and gangs had a controlling interest in the trade. "We have anecdotal evidence that a lot of the cannabis is being grown for gangs and being distributed by gangs."
Western Bay of Plenty area commander Inspector Mike Clement said he had no doubt a gang was responsible for the plots discovered on Wednesday.
"I don't think there's any question that it's organised crime."
He would not name the gang believed involved but said the haul was significant for the fact the plants were on the cusp of being cultivated.
"When they're 2m high and all budded up and ready for plucking, it's always a bit of a win for us ... And of course what I'm cock-a-hoot about is that it's not going to be in the marketplace here in the Bay of Plenty."
A tip-off led to the discovery of the 990 plants, which were growing on private land.
Mr Clement said the landowner was not involved in the cultivation and had fallen victim to an increasing trend among growers to use maize to obscure cannabis.
"That's what the cultivators rely on, that they can hide their plants within a huge crop and as long as they cultivate it before the maize gets cultivated, they're safe."
He believed the lookout in the tree was to protect the growers against ripoffs by other criminals, but despite its presence, the crop in this case was not safe.
It was destroyed by police immediately upon discovery and they are following leads they hope will result in the growers' arrest.
"Cannabis is one of those illicit commodities that can start users, particularly youth, down a pathway of lifetime drug abuse and anti-social behaviour," Mr Clement said.
Neither he nor Mr McGill was surprised by the proximity of the plots to suburban areas, saying anywhere was fair game to those involved in the trade.
Asked if high petrol prices might be deterring growers from seeking out more remote locations, Mr Clement said: "Maybe that's an element [or] maybe they're lazy."
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