Alaska Stable Isotope Facility scientists have claimed that they can trace marijuana to its roots, and are now working on ways to determine whether it was grown indoors or out.
According to Matthew Wooller, the director of the facility, the researchers hope to have something more precise in the near future that could tell police where and under what conditions a sample of marijuana is grown.
"There are scientists already doing this for drugs like heroin and cocaine. The potential is there for being able to do this for marijuana as well," claimed Wooller, adding that the key lies at the atomic level.
Of particular interest to Wooller and his colleagues are the stable isotopes of four elements: carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen.
"The marijuana holds a signature of the environment that it used to be grown in.The marijuana holds a signature of the environment that it used to be grown in. It is laid down in time and preserved in the materials that make up a plant," Wooller said.
The testing at the UAF facility is novel because, for each sample, scientists are taking the isotopic signatures of four elements, rather than for just a single one, Wooller said.
"We have the potential to create a precise chemical fingerprint," he added.
The marijuana research began approximately two years ago and was initially supported by a grant from the University of Alaska President's Special Projects Fund. The UAF Police Department provided the lab samples of marijuana confiscated locally.
Scientists initially assumed that most of the samples would show that they had been grown in Alaska rather than being imported from the low latitudes.
The project has potential to help police on multiple levels, according to investigator Stephen Goetz at the UAF Police Department.
From an evidentiary standpoint, it could tie a growing operation to marijuana seized on the street, he said, and offer evidence of both the production of marijuana and its distribution.
It could also help the state's drug enforcement officials track the trafficking patterns of marijuana by comparing where the marijuana was grown to where it is seized, Goetz said.
"We need more data. We need more analyses of marijuana samples from known locations so we can create these base marijuana isotope maps," Wooller said.