Researchers working at the Connecticut Forensic Science Laboratory in Meriden have spent the last three years mapping the genetic profiles of some 600 marijuana samples from around New England, the Associated Press reported Monday. The work could help law enforcement track marijuana distribution, researchers said.
The DNA mapping project takes advantage of a marijuana cultivation technique increasingly popular with growers: taking cuttings (or clones) from plants with proven performance. The plants grown from the cuttings are genetically identical to their parent. Using clones instead of growing from seeds have key advantages for growers. Cloned plants are a known commodity, since given the same conditions they will behave in the same manner as their parent. A garden of clones will also grow uniformly. And with clones, there is no concern about getting male plants, which not only do not produce THC in high enough quantities, but are also a potential threat to fertilize the sought-after female plants, making them go to seed and dramatically reducing their value.
Researchers at the lab and law enforcement sources told AP that once the marijuana DNA database was large enough, "using a single marijuana bud seized anywhere in the world, police would be able to quickly deduce whether a suspect is a homegrown dope dealer or part of an international cartel."
That is wishful thinking. Clones are often sold to other growers, so the fact that a bud found in New England matches one found in, say, British Columbia, would actually demonstrate only that at some point they came from the same parent, not the fact of a continental cultivation conspiracy.
While the Connecticut database is not nearly large enough to be able to help law enforcement at this point, researchers told AP they are seeking to renew a $340,000 federal grant to continue their work and they hope federal agencies will begin sending in samples. The genetic mapping technique will not work for drugs such as cocaine or heroin, they added, pointing out that the chemical processing makes such tracking impossible.
Not everyone shares the excitement of scientists and police. "It's a huge, monumental waste of taxpayer dollars," Allen St. Pierre, executive director the National Organization for the Repeal of Marijuana Laws Foundation, told the AP.