New Zealand Is Suffering from a Severe Weed Shortage

Kiwi weed enthusiasts are suffering through their worst cannabis drought in more than 15 years, and nobody knows why.

Image by Ben Thomson

New Zealand is suffering its worst weed drought in recent history, and so far pot-starved kiwis have no one to point the finger at. The current shortage began at the start of the year, with parts of the South Island and upper North Island seemingly affected the worst. One grower from South Island's east coast Waimate district told media earlier this month it's the most severe shortage they had seen in 15 years, and that it was a "nightmare for consumers," who were struggling to buy weed at any price.

Though no one seems to understand why there's no weed in these parts of New Zealand, but many suspect that police seizures are behind the shortage. However, there have been no publicly reported busts in the last few months, with the exception of a haul worth an estimated NZ $300,000 [US $225,000] that came about just last week and resulted in 15 arrests and over 2,000 plants being uprooted. News of more marijuana being seized can only have local smokers shaking their heads.

One Auckland supplier told VICE it's logical to assume more raids took place earlier in the year. "I didn't hear of any busts but I can't really understand why there's a drought considering I'm one of the few people I know that sells weed that isn't grown under lights," he said. "So for me to have a drought, that can be expected, but I don't see why hydroponic weed would have a drought."

The supplier said the shortage has pulled irregular customers out of the woodwork. But while they're desperate to buy, there is nothing to sell. "This is the first time I've run out of weed since I was a teenager," he says. "I had to buy weed for myself for the first time in 20 years."

As harvest time nears, small amounts of cannabis are starting to dribble back onto the market. Growers whose plants are almost full-size are taking advantage of the drought to make some quick cash. Cannabis plants are usually harvested around April or May, before the regular rainy season starts, to avoid the buds composting on the plants. It is predicted this year's crops should yield a healthy amount of bud, thanks to a strong growing season powered by a hot, dry summer.

However, the risk is any upcoming harvest may get scooped up by more raids. Police are pushing the public to turn in growers, and earlier this year issued a "guide to identify cannabis operations." Citizens were warned to be on the lookout for people "carrying shovels, spades, and similar equipment into the bush" and "unusual sightings of lights, head torches, and headlights in rural areas at night." Other potentially nefarious activities include constantly closed curtains or having black-out windows. And, of course, people are to be on alert for a "distinctive smell" wafting over from the neighbor's house.

There's a lot of distinctive smells in New Zealand— a 2008 survey found that 14.6 percent of kiwis between the ages of 16 and 64 smoked weed in the past year, making the country one of the top ten most toking-est countries in the world. But decriminalization still seems a way off, even though, as Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party leader Julian Crawford points out, legalization would stop regular citizens from interacting with the criminal element and risking unnecessary convictions.

"I think there is a lot of stigma around cannabis and a lot of people choose to keep their cannabis use secret," Crawford said. "But for me I've been quite open about it and I think it has limited my career prospects and my travel prospects, because I have cannabis convictions from previous arrests."

Crawford would like to see New Zealand implement a model of regulation and taxation similar to Colorado. Crawford also posits such regulation would also help supplies stay consistent.

"People don't like how cannabis is being supplied by gangs and black market forces," he says. "Sometimes there is a large amount of cannabis available and sometimes there's none available. It'd be easier if there were retail outlets that guaranteed the supply and took profits away from the gangs and brought the tax revenue into the public purse."

Of course, such a model would likely push marijuana prices up for the first time in recent memory. Weed in New Zealand has sat at an average of about NZ $350 (about $260) per ounce for at least 20 years, if not longer. As one seller points out, the industry's immunity to inflation could be a contributing factor to it's shortage: "With P labs you can generate more money, so maybe it's just a financial thing. You've got to sell a lot of weed to make $350, and $350 doesn't go far these days. It was a lot of money in 1995, but not anymore."

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