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The number of proceedings by police for cannabis-related offences in Waitaki has almost doubled over the past four years, rising from 48 in 2015 to 91 last year.

In 2018, 91 of 127 proceedings by police for drugs in Waitaki were for offences relating to the class C drug.

Figures released to the Oamaru Mail under the Official Information Act showed 81 actions taken for cannabis offences were made in Oamaru, five in Kurow, two in Hampden, two in Palmerston and one in Omarama. In the first six months of this year, there were 38 proceedings for cannabis in Oamaru and one in Hampden.

In 2015, there were 38 arrests for cannabis offences in Oamaru, three in Kurow, seven in Hampden and none in Palmerston or Omarama.

Senior Sergeant Jason McCoy, of Oamaru, said proceedings included a range of actions taken by police, from warnings to prosecutions.

In the past year, Oamaru police had focused more on drug offending in general, which accounted for the increase in drug related proceedings, Snr Sgt McCoy said.

“There does not appear to have been an increase of cannabis use in the Waitaki district, but any form of drug use in our community has a detrimental impact on the individual, their family and the wider community. It can drive many aspects of crime, including family harm, dishonesty offences and serious assaults.”

Snr Sgt McCoy said anyone suspicious about illegal cultivation of cannabis should contact police on 105.

Oamaru cannabis activist Michael Doran said police were placing “too much” focus on cannabis, when drugs such as methamphetamine caused much more harm in the community.

“Everyone who has gone through crystal meth addiction has come out with a hate for it,” Mr Doran said.

“It’s one of those drugs which doesn’t just affect the individual, it affects the family and community.”

If recreational cannabis was made legal in New Zealand, Mr Doran expected there would be a reduction in the use of class A drugs.

Oamaru police carried out 19 methamphetamine-related proceedings in 2018 and another 12 in the first six months of this year – a significant jump from just one in 2017.

“We [also] have a big problem with synthetic cannabis in this town,” Mr Doran said.

“Synthetic cannabis and crystal meth seem to go hand-in-hand – most pot smokers want to keep away from the meth heads, which is why I don’t understand why the police are targeting pot smokers.”

Mr Doran said public opinion on cannabis had changed over the past five years, and hoped next year’s cannabis referendum would lead to the legalisation of recreational cannabis.