Police in NSW have seized $67 million worth of cannabis in what is believed to be Australia’s biggest haul of the drug.
Six people have been charged after police uncovered almost 20,000 cannabis plants at a rural property in western NSW, worth a record $67 million.
Strike Force Harthouse was established in 2019 to investigate the cultivation and supply of cannabis across the state and uncovered a rural property in Dandry, about 35km north of Coonabarabran, which was allegedly used for the large-scale cultivation of cannabis.
Detectives executed a crime scene warrant at the Newell Highway property from 8am Tuesday and have since seized 19,082 cannabis plants.
The plants have an estimated potential street value of $66.8 million, with police saying the operation is expected to continue over the coming days.
Drug and Firearms Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent John Watson, said the seizure of more than 19,000 cannabis plants is believed to be a national record.
Five men and one woman, aged between 23 and 42, were arrested and taken to Dubbo and Coonabarabran Police Stations.
All six were charged with cultivate prohibited plant (large commercial quantity cannabis), knowingly take part cultivate (large commercial quantity cannabis) and participate criminal group contribute criminal activity.
They were refused bail to appear at Coonamble Local Court on Wednesday, with the Department of Home Affairs looking into the visa status of the group.
Superintendent Watson said about 90,000 square metres of land was “illegally cleared” at the property to make way for 20 greenhouses containing the cannabis plants “at various stages of maturity”.
“A lot of money has been invested into the property, which we allege existed purely for cannabis cultivation,” he said.
“In terms of scale, this is one of the largest and most commercial cannabis enterprises we’ve seen – with significant infrastructure, including two large dams, commercial generators, earth moving equipment, across multiple sites, all of which require attention from workers seven days a week.”
State Crime Commander, Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith, said police continue to see serious and organised crime groups exploit regional areas for cannabis cultivation as part of their business model.
“These types of operations have no regard for the environment or local community and are utilised by criminals only because the crop cycle for cannabis is relatively short – which can mean a quick source of revenue if successful,” Assistant Commissioner Smith said.
“This particular cannabis crop has resulted in the yield of around 11.5 tonnes of high-end cannabis. This was a sophisticated processing plant with the sole purpose of preparing the commodity for market.”
Assistant Commissioner Smith said the cash sales from the crop would have “flowed through poker machines of regional pubs, clubs and casinos around the state” and sent offshore to fund other alleged criminal activities.
“These sorts of syndicates are global, diversified and ubiquitous, and involve substantial amounts of planning using Dedicated Encrypted Communication Devices (DECDs), which are beyond the reach of authorities,” he said.
“It remains one of the highest priorities of NSW Police to dismantle the ability of criminals to obtain illicit proceeds and disrupt their operations – just as we’ve done yesterday.”
Investigations under Strike Force Harthouse are continuing.