Bikies, crime lords’ link to $24m cannabis crop busts
BIKIES and organised crime lords are "capital raising" by growing fields of marijuana plants and ploughing the profits into the soaring number of clandestine laboratories being uncovered by police.
Drug and Firearms Squad officers have uprooted more than $24 million worth of cannabis from illegal plantations up and down the state since November in a bid to starve criminal groups of their start up finance.
The Cannabis Eradication Program harvested more than 12,000 plants using swathes of intelligence from local police, residents and even crooks on the street.
Squad commander, Detective Superintendent Martin Fileman said the evidence clearly linked organised crime, meth labs and marijuana plantations.
"This type of money (from cannabis) will then go into funding organised crime and we've seen the 47 per cent increase in the amount of clandestine labs we've identified in the last 12 months," Supt Fileman said.
"(Criminals) need money to purchase chemicals, money to purchase pre-cursers.
"A lot of them are using that money to fund ventures such as manufacturing synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine … it is criminal capital raising."
Supt Fileman has heard the "it's only cannabis" argument many time before and his response is clear.
"We get asked that question all the time but we're not here to debate legislation we're here to enforce it," he said.
In any event, he said there was science connecting cannabis use and psychotic episodes, especially in the adolescent mind.
Finding and removing carefully hidden cannabis crops in dense bushland across the state is the backbreaking and intensely-planned work of the squad's cannabis team.
Trained crop-spotters in a PolAir helicopter fly over suspect terrain, radioing back to ground crews in trucks who are ready to bush-bash their way to the secluded plantations.
On both farms and Crown lands west of Coffs Harbour last week the sound of approaching choppers and 4WDs sent some into a panic.
One man was seen running into bushes, another was seen ripping out plants as fast as he could.
There are now 25 before the courts thanks to the CEPs rural raids since November, charged with cultivation and firearms offences.
One 240-plant crop in bushland near the tiny town of Dorrigo showed an immense criminal sophistication.
A huge slab of the forest floor had been cleared to allow sunlight to the plants, which were being irrigated, for free, via an adjacent stream using a generator and pump.
Each plant had been meticulously tied up straight with green wire to get enough sun and had been fertilised. The soil was moist and there were virtually no weeds.
"They'll either use a generator that's powered by petrol or they're using solar panels these days which are turning it on at a certain time, so they don't need to come near the crop site, they can stay away," Supt Fileman said.