A TRUCKLOAD of pot was piled up and set alight yesterday by drug squad officers after a series of raids on local plantations.
With a street value of $5 million, it was a very expensive - and heady - bonfire.
The burn-off followed several days of helicopter surveillance and crop seizures by the drug squad cannabis team, local police, and the police helicopter branch, Polair.
More than 2500 mature plants were uprooted from bushland along coastal areas from Suffolk Park to Ballina, inland around The Channon and Nimbin region, and the mid-Richmond around Wardell.
Richmond Local Area Command Inspector Matt Kehoe said about 60 sites were searched.
Police have since charged three people for cultivation of the crop and are seeking information on the "owners" of several other plantations.
A similar operation has run every year since the mid-1980s and NSW Police estimate it has prevented cannabis with a potential street value of more than $250 million reaching NSW streets.
But local cannabis advocates say it's a waste of police resources.
President of the HEMP Embassy Michael Balderstone described the raids around Nimbin as a "siege" against hippie communities who were easy targets but didn't grow big commercial crops.
"The police are in and out of town, and the helicopter is there in the air... the drug bus is sitting just outside Nimbin for the second day," he said.
"The helicopter over your house is really a frightening experience... they trash people's gardens, they show full aggressive disrespect for hippies.
"This is the same old policing we've had for 20 years - surely it's time for a rethink.
"It just alienates the police that much further from locals."
Mr Balderstone added it was ironic that the NSW Government had moved towards sanctioning medical cannabis and yet much of the good quality organic product was being seized and burnt.
"It's far better for people to use outdoor grass than hydroponic cannabis grown in a bath of chemicals," he said.
"There are far more problematic drugs around (that) they should be spending their money on... especially when ice is available across regional Australia."
But Inspector Kehoe said the raids were justified.
"I think when you look at $5 million of drugs that's taken of the street; $5 million worth of cash that's taken off drug suppliers and put back to families, I think that's a terrific result."
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