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After New Zealand Virus Protests, an Illicit Weed Began Growing at Parliament

When anti-vaccination protesters finally cleared out of New Zealand’s Parliament grounds after a three-week occupation, they left behind a scene of destruction and disorder — the charred remains of a children’s playground, camping equipment and human waste, among other items.

This week, a man eating lunch in the Parliament garden spotted something else left behind by protesters — cannabis seedlings nestled among the brassicas and marigolds.

The unidentified man told Radio New Zealand, the national broadcaster, that he might not have “inhaled” back in university, but he had a “fairly good idea” what kind of plants were sprouting “just meters away from the debating chamber.”

The discovery prompted a swift operation by groundskeepers to find, uproot and destroy the plants sneakily seeded in the Parliament’s garden in the capital, Wellington.

“We are weeding out the weed,” Trevor Mallard, the speaker of Parliament, assured New Zealanders in a statement.

The discovery raised questions about what other surprises protesters might leave behind as a new anti-vaccination group took to social media to plan another protest for Friday.

A representative for the grounds told the national broadcaster that “a lot” of marijuana seeds had been scattered around by protesters. Seedlings for cilantro, tomatoes, other vegetables and herbs were also left behind. The man who originally found the marijuana plants pronounced it “a shame,” and added, “The law is the law.”

In New Zealand, the possession and manufacture of recreational cannabis remain illegal after 53 percent of voters voted against legalizing marijuana in a 2020 referendum. In the lead-up to the vote, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declined to throw her support behind either side to avoid, she suggested, influencing the outcome. Later, she revealed she had voted in favor of legalization.

The protest over the country’s strict vaccine mandates lasted 23 days and attracted hundreds of people from across the country. The crowd grew to include conspiracy theorists and others who descended on the site to rage against various grievances. What began as a peaceful protest resembling a music festival ended in dramatic and sometimes bloody clashes with the police. Fires broke out. Protesters wielded fire extinguishers, paint-filled projectiles and other homemade weapons. Dozens of officers were injured.

Weeks later, relations between the New Zealand government and protesters against the vaccine mandate remain strained.

Last Wednesday, Ms. Ardern announced that the country would move away from its vaccine requirements and abandon other Covid restrictions, including ending vaccine passes in shops and other venues, even as the Omicron variant has caused widespread outbreaks.

But some groups are pushing for a complete end to those restrictions. A new anti-vaccine group announced plans to protest in Wellington on Friday, prompting workers to put up fences around Parliament and police officers to turn out.

In the end, only a few people showed up to protest at a war memorial near Parliament. The rain had begun to fall — perfect for seedlings but not, apparently, for protesters.

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