Marijuana DNA database can track pot’s origins

There is a new tool in the ongoing war on drugs and it comes from a forensic scientist at the University of New Haven. Heather Miller Coyle, an associate professor in the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences is setting up a national databank that will allow law enforcement to track marijuana DNA.

Most people probably didn’t even know marijuana had DNA, but Coyle, who specializes in forensic botany, has developed a new method for collecting the drug’s genetic fingerprint, making it easy for officers to collect the samples at crime scenes.

“Plant DNA is like the DNA found in humans — it retains its lifelong genetic profile,” says Coyle. “If one person has a suitcase of marijuana and another person has bags of it, we will be able to tell if it came from the same batch,” she said in a news release.

The DNA databank will be similar to one the FBI runs human DNA, the Combined DNA Index System or CODIS. CODIS allows DNA samples from crime scenes to be compared against a computerized database to help identify suspects.

The marijuana version will help law enforcement track where the drug came from and link it to criminal drug trafficking organizations in Mexico, growers in Canada or gangs in the U.S.

“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 the 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’s project has been funded with more than $100,000 from the National Marijuana Initiative and the National High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program. The groups work together with federal, state and local law enforcement in the detection, disruption and investigation into marijuana trafficking.

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