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Fingerprinting technology could identify marijuana

By Hempology | July 10, 2003

New tool would track movement of pot destined for illicit markets,
scientists say.

From the Globe and Mail, July 10th, 2003

By Stephen Strauss

DNA fingerprinting technology might soon lay to rest any fears that
Canada’s newly approved medical marijuana could easily be funnelled
into illegal street sales.

For the past few years, law-enforcement research scientists in
the United States, initially aided by their RCMP colleagues in Canada,
have been developing a way to genetically fingerprint pot.

The research, discussed in today’s edition of the British magazine
New Scientist, has taken a plant gene identification technology
originally created for patenting strains of corn and rice and
expanded it to identify strains of marijuana.

“One of the things that we had thought would be a great application
was if you keep a fingerprint file of the legal stuff and then compare
it to the illegal stuff. Then you could definately see if someone
was moving it around in a way which was inappropriate,” said Heather

Miller Coyle, a research scientist with the Connecticut State
Forensic Science Laboratory.

There is no way at present for officials in this country to
determine when and if medical marijuana has been sold into the illicit
market, Health Canada spokeswoman Jirina Vlk said.

The American research team is eager to remedy that by adding the DNA
fingerprint of Canada’s medical marijauan to the growing database.
“We certainly would be happy to process and house the samples for
our database and return the results to Canada. And if that sounds like
a solicitation, it is, because it is,” Ms. Coyle said in an interview.

While fingerprinting pot may one day be used to track the flow of
medical marijuana, there are other more immediate applications.

“I have already been asked about a case where a joint has been left
at a murder scene, and a suspect has been found with marijuana on
him … With fingerprinting, you could see if they came from the
same plant, and that would be rpetty good evidence for even a
criminal trial,” said Gary Shutler of the Washington State Patrol’s
crime laboratory division.

Mr. Shutler was formerly with the RCMP’s Forensic Laboratory
Service in Winnipeg where pure strains of marijuana were grown by
Winnipeg police for use in officer training.

He provided those varieties to the U.S. researchers, who used them
to perfect the new fingerprinting technology. “But the day I left
[Winnipeg], the project was shut down,” Mr. Shutler said, blaming
budget cuts.

Another possible application for the technology might be called
criminal epidemiology. Law enforcement officials should be able to
determine how much U.S. pot actually comes from Canada – in
particular, British Columbia, which has an illicit marijuana industry
worth between $1-billion and $6-billion. Without a lot of hard data,
it has been estimated that 10 to 15 per cent of the marijuana found
in the United States is so-called “B.C. bud.”

The new fingerprinting technology is close to being applied. Earlier
this year, the scientists published a paper showing that it’s possible
to extract a DNA fingerprint from a tiny amount – one tenth of a
joint’s worth – of pot.

“It’s not in the courtrooms yet, but we are close,” Ms. Coyle said.

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