New Database Can Identify Marijuana Strains Through DNA


University of New Haven
The simplify the process for cops (who, as we know, need for things to be as simple as possible), Coyle and her team developed a “collection card” Officers can rub a bud onto a card, then mail it to UNH’s lab.

​A new marijuana DNA database can tell if a particular batch of cannabis is one of more than 25 types that have been genetically mapped by a forensic botanist in Connecticut.

DNA analysis has almost unlimited potential in helping patients and breeders — once it’s used for that purpose, instead of to bust us.
But before you get too pumped about this exciting new service, I should point out that word “forensic” in botanist Heather Coyle’s job description. That’s right, this DNA analysis is meant to benefit cops and federal agents, not cannabis patients or breeders.

Coyle, 46, says that her genetic analysis can let law enforcement trace the marijuana from a single bud or seed back to its source, as long as they can get ahold of matching samples, reports Gregory B. Hladky at
The DNA analysis would permit agents to track where the marijuana originated when an arrest is made. It could also possibly form the basis of a federal case against foreign companies which sell cannabis seeds to American consumers; Toke of the Town unhappily predicts the first DNA-bolstered federal indictments of seed company personnel — and the attempted extradition of suspects to face charges in the U.S., a la Marc Emery — within 18 months.

Associate Professor Heather Miller Coyle: “If one person has a suitcase full of marijuana and another person has bags of it, we will be able to tell if it came from the same batch”

​They could learn, for example, if the weed was grown in Mexico and formed part of a south-of-the-border drug cartel’s shipment. Or maybe it was part of a crop from California’s Emerald Triangle that was sold at a San Francisco dispensary.
“The DNA mapping initiative will allow law enforcement personnel for the first time to track where marijuana came from and link to to criminal organizations such as drug trafficking organizations in Mexico, growers in Canada or gangs in the United States,” says a press release from the University of New Haven.
“Such a databank and signature mark would be a welcome tool for police and law enforcement agencies,” said Frank Limon, New Haven chief of police. “It’s probable, in some cases, that conspirators of t he overall operation may escape investigation and prosecution. The link between production and distribution would aid us in establishing conspiracy cases against the whole operation — not just the dealers and buyers. This would effectively connect the dots to street level narcotics distribution.”
Coyle claims this system of genetic fingerprinting could also be used to offer states a foolproof way to control and regulate state-legal medical marijuana programs.
It’s probably not a coincidence that Connecticut officials just so happen to be looking at that exact issue, as they consider passing a medical marijuana law.
Coyle, one of only four or five forensic botanists in the U.S., spent seven years working at the Connecticut state forensics lab before becoming an associate professor at the University of New Haven in 2005. Her job was helping to sold ceases by identifying and analyzing samples of plants taken from crime scenes.
Not surprisingly, NCIS is one of her favorite shows.

Jennifer Cappuccio Maher/Ontario Now
Tommy LaNier, National Marijuana Initiative: “It’s very effective in getting numbers of people to plead guilty”

​Coyle began her marijuana DNA research in 2008 with a grant from the infamous White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which, like the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), will only fund anti-marijuana research. The money to keep the program going has also come in from the federal National Marijuana Initiative and the National High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program, adding up to about $100,000 a year.
The marijuana database and DNA sequencing use essentially the same science used for human DNA testing. “Plant DNA is like the DNA found in humans,” Coyle said. “It retains its lifelong genetic profile.”
“If one person has a suitcase full of marijuana and another person has bags of it, we will be able to tell if it came from the same batch,” Coyle said.
Coyle and her students have already analyzed cannabis seeds from federal agents who bought them over the Internet. Nearly all have come from commercial outfits in Amsterdam and Canada with names like “Sensi Seeds” and “Mr Nice Seeds.”
U.S. federal law forbids sending the seeds to American citizens, but the companies do it anyway, using “stealth packaging,” according to Ashley Hertzman, a UNH senior who is working on the pot research program. Ten of the seeds can cost up to $75.

​To simplify the process for cops (who, as we know, need for things to be as simple as possible), Coyle and her team developed a “collection card.” Officers can take a sample leaf or bud from a pot bust, rub it onto a card, then mail it to UNH’s lab. A small portion of the card is punched out, put through the DNA sequencer, matched against the database and the strain is identified.
“One major advantage of using collection cards is that it takes the marijuana sample from a usable drug form to a nonsmoking drug format, making research and storage at universities possible,” Coyle said. (Of course, we couldn’t trust any college personnel around smokable marijuana, now could we?)
The project is still in the research phase, according to Coyle, so they aren’t yet handling evidence to be used in criminal cases. “We’re getting in position to use it in court,” she said.
“It’s very effective in getting numbers of people to plead guilty,” claimed Tommy LaNier, director of the anti-cannabis, White House-funded, National Marijuana & Public
Lands Initiative, based in San Diego. “You’ve got hard evidence and they can’t dispute it.” One of Lanier’s primary targets is weed grown on public property.
Coyle said a state could order licensed medical marijuana growers to use a specific type of marijuana plant (a chilling thought), and only that particular strain of pot could be sold in state-licensed dispensaries.
I’ve never heard a more certain way to ensure that, (1) state-licensed pot would be useless to a majority of patients; and (2) most patients would refuse to buy or use the state-approved marijuana, preferring instead to go through the black market to get the strains that actually work for them.
“As long as you can enforce the policy or legislation put in place, there’s nothing wrong with allowing therapeutic marijuana for terminally ill patients,” Coyle grants, in what she must have thought was a generous statement.
But she’s against general legalization, buying into Drug War propaganda that it could allow cartels to move in and take over the market, and “an opportunity to get more people to use it.” (How many Al Capone-style gangs “moved into and took over” the alcohol market once it became legal? Thank you.)
Coyle’s determination to standardize marijuana cultivation by going after big illegal growers hasn’t lessened her professional admiration for the expertise of many cannabis cultivators.
“They’re very good at what they do,” she admitted,” pointing in particular to some growers in California’s Emerald Triangle. “The very, very high-end growers are very good at genetics.”