An overview of DNA methods for the identification and individualization of marijuana
The purpose of this review is to summarize the status of DNA-based methods for the identification and individualization of marijuana. In forensics, both identification of a substance as marijuana and the subsequent individualization of a sample may be desired for casework. Marijuana identification methods in the United States primarily include biochemical tests and, less frequently, DNA-based tests. Under special circumstances, DNA-based tests can be useful. For example, if the quantity of seized marijuana is extremely small and/or biochemical tests do not detect any D9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), DNA identification of plant material as Cannabis is still possible. This circumstance can arise when seeds, trace residue, tiny leaf fragments, or fine roots need to be analyzed. Methods for the individualization of marijuana include amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP), random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD), and short tandem repeat (STR) techniques that link an evidentiary sample to a source. Marijuana growers propagate their plants either by seed or by cloning. Seed-generated marijuana plants are expected to have unique DNA profiles analogous to a human population. Cloned marijuana plants, however, exhibit identical DNA profiles that allow for tracking of plant material derived from a common genetic lineage. The authors have validated the AFLP method for marijuana samples and are constructing a comparative database of marijuana seizure samples to estimate the expected frequency of a DNA profile match between unrelated plants. Continued development of DNA-based methods for plants can be useful for marijuana and other types of plant evidence in forensics.