The High Road: Alaska Researchers Map Marijuana 

The High Road: Alaska Researchers Map Marijuana 
Posted by CN Staff on June 07, 2007 at 21:53:16 PT
By Casey Grove
Source: Anchorage Press
Alaska -- The B.C. bud came across the border to Alaska hidden under wooden boards covering the frame of a long flatbed trailer, the kind you might use to haul around some heavy equipment.One big bust in April of 2006 by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration filled up about 10 large cardboard boxes with 308 pounds of British Columbia pot. Subsequent arrests ended six years of smuggling for the drug ring, but not before they transported roughly 2,200 pounds of marijuana worth $10 million, law enforcement officials estimate.
It wasn’t the absolute highest quality, say local pot smokers, but it was good. Good enough to compete with the high-quality Alaska-grown pot and flood the market. Law enforcement officers have long suspected that Alaska is both an exporter and an importer of marijuana. Alaska’s black market, once thought to be awash in its own excellent marijuana, seems to in fact be a crossroads for some of the best pot in the world.When cops seize marijuana from drug smugglers, such as the ones using the flatbed trailer, they have a better chance of tracking down where it came from. When they seize it at the source, the grow room, they know exactly where it came from.But plastic baggies of marijuana buds sit hidden in the pockets, backpacks, automobiles, and homes of millions of Americans. And when this pot gets intercepted during traffic stops and other officer-to-person contacts, often its origin is unknown — even to the pot smoker.What Alaska law enforcement hasn’t had — until now — was a quantitative way of telling how much of the state’s pot was grown here and how much was grown Outside. Nor could they pinpoint the geographic area in which a particular bag of pot was from. Now, researchers and police at the University of Alaska Fairbanks might have a way to find out exactly where in the world those buds grew.Inside the lab at the Alaska Stable Isotope Facility in the Water and Environmental Research Center at UAF, bulky gray boxes with digital displays are connected to each other with venting ducts and bundles of wires that run up to the ceiling. A radio set to a classic rock station is playing somewhere. It’s an attempt to mask the whirring, clicking and popping of the spectrometers and all the noise created by their peripheral devices. They also have the radio on “to keep the instruments happy,” says Dr. Matthew Wooller, an associate professor at the university and one of the marijuana study’s principal investigators.The facility, which is part of the Institute of Northern Engineering at UAF, analyzes the stable isotopic signatures of thousands of samples, including water, glacier ice cores, animal fur, and bird feathers. And, most recently, they’ve been looking at marijuana.This is how it works: Elements like oxygen and hydrogen have naturally occurring isotopes, which are simply variations in the number of neutrons in atoms of the same element. The more neutrons, the heavier the atom.Because of the tilt in Earth’s axis, the planet’s weather patterns tend to originate in the tropics and spiral northward. As that happens, isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen (the building blocks of water) with a greater atomic mass tend to fall out of the atmosphere closer to the equator. A proportionately higher number of lighter isotopes stay in the atmosphere longer and make their way farther north.“By the time precipitation has moved up here” Wooller says, “it is proportionately rained out.”The result: “Up here in Alaska, we live in a pretty unique isotopic environment.”“Plants take that [isotopic] signature up,” Wooller says. There are about a dozen office plants sitting behind him. “They take that water up.”His computer screen shows a global map of hundreds of sites where the isotopic signature of local water has been analyzed. “It’s that very subtle difference in mass that yields this type of map for water,” Wooller says.Wooller points out his office window to the Alaska Range. Mountains also cause heavier isotopes to fall out, he says. Because Interior Alaska sits in the rain shadow of both the Alaska and Brooks ranges, the isotopic signature of Fairbanks water is even more unique.Stable isotope analysis has allowed wildlife biologists to track animal migrations and paleontologists to reconstruct ancient ecosystems or scrutinize dinosaur remains, among many other things. It’s proven to be especially effective at analyzing organic compounds in plants, even plants that are millions of years old, Wooller says.It can even be used to track people. While his wife (now also a UAF professor) was living in Boston, Wooller frequently traveled between there and Fairbanks. He saved his fingernail clippings from these trips and sampled his own hair. The isotopes present in the hair and nails were consistent with the isotopic signatures of wherever he was at the time they were collected — Boston or Fairbanks. Armed with those results, Wooller and his wife co-authored a paper, which was recently accepted by Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, the premier academic journal in his field.So why not pot?That was the question posed by Wooller and his fellow researchers, Tim Howe, Norma Haubenstock and Melanie Rohr. In October 2005, they wrote a proposal to the University of Alaska Foundation President’s Special Projects Fund. The proposal was titled, “A novel application of stable isotope techniques to ‘fingerprint’ the origin of Marijuana in Alaska.”“Alaska’s a great place to do that, because it has such a wide isotopic variation just across the state,” Wooller says. “It also has marijuana being grown in numerous locations, and that’s great.” Great for the study, he means.Getting funding can be difficult, especially with complex, highly regulated projects. Wooller’s proposal succeeded in winning that support, but the real work began when the proposal was accepted. The DEA must regulate all controlled substances, and an agent had to make sure there were controls in place for the marijuana study.“It took us about a year to get the red tape out of the way,” Wooller says. With help from the UAF Police Department, Wooller’s team began the laborious process of getting authorized by the feds to handle marijuana.Every last bit of pot must be accounted for and logged. The lab had to be outfitted with a tiny safe, which was bolted to the floor. To handle the marijuana, Wooller, Howe and Haubenstock had to undergo background checks. Deadbolts were added to doors entering the room where samples were weighed. Two people were required to observe the measuring in an adjoining room, in case something went wrong. “It was kind of overkill, in my opinion,” Wooller says. But they jumped through the hoops.The DEA, the UAF police, and the university’s Office of Research Integrity checked off the changes to the lab. There was just one more obstacle, one that would be familiar to plenty of pot smokers: getting some weed.“They said all they would need was a visible sample,” says UAF Police Officer Stephen Goetz while sitting at the UAF Police Department. He’s holding a small vial containing about a hundredth of a gram of marijuana. “If you could see it, that was enough.”At first, most of the samples came from traffic stops and officer contacts on or around campus, Goetz says. He catalogued each of them, wrote a short summary about when and where it was collected, and wrote the case number and date on the vial.At UAF, most of the officers specialize in a particular area of law enforcement. Goetz’s specialty is drugs. He often assists the Alaska Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Enforcement in and around Fairbanks with busts of meth labs and marijuana grows.Goetz started to get the word out about Wooller’s marijuana study. Through his contacts with ABADE, they started getting samples from agencies outside of UAF, including many from the Alaska State Troopers in Fairbanks and the Soldotna Police Department.UAF police were happy to help, because the project fit well with what they believe is their role in the community.“We see this police department here, on a college campus, as wanting to do more,” says UAF Police Chief Sean McGee. “How can we work with the students and faculty as law enforcement to make this a better community?”“Otherwise, I think you’re just sticking your head in the sand if you just go out there and write tickets,” McGee says. “There’s a bigger picture here.”But it was sometimes difficult to depend on other departments, Goetz says. They might have been overstretched, and they weren’t invested in the project in the way UAF police are. For example, after a big bust somewhere, an agency might forget to collect a sample, or they’d forget to do a summary, Goetz says. “It was a pain in the ass,” he says.Then he got in touch with the evidence custodian at the Trooper post in Fairbanks. Goetz did most of the extra legwork of cataloguing the seized evidence as samples for a science experiment.“She had just piles of evidence down there,” Goetz says. He catalogued about 40 samples, to add to the body of data yet to be analyzed.The isotope lab’s tan and silver-colored combustion unit — a three-foot by three-foot box that burns marijuana, among other things — is attached to an equally plain-looking mass spectrometer. At first, listening to Wooller explain how it works, the setup seems like it could be the world’s most expensive bong.After the tiny bits of pot are freeze-dried and weighed, they get put in a tin capsule and into a circular tray that has 50 slots. Those trays get stacked on top of the pyrolysis unit — so called because it burns the sample without additional oxygen. (Introducing oxygen to the sample would affect the results, Wooller says.) As the circular trays turn, samples are dropped into the pyrolysis unit.Once the samples are weighed and prepared — and they’re continually being prepared — the machines can run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.The small pulse of carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide from the pot is cleaned up by the machine and placed into a constant stream of helium, an inert gas. Helium doesn’t affect the samples, explains Wooller: “It’s called the ‘carrier’ gas.”The gas and the sample enter the stable isotope ratio mass spectrometer. “The carbon monoxide is excited inside the mass spectrometer,” Wooller says. “[Then it’s] sent through a flight tube that passes in front of what’s essentially a huge magnet,” he says, making a sweeping motion with his hand across the front of the spectrometer.The magnet pulls on the isotopes proportionally to their relative atomic mass, Wooller says. Just as the isotopes fall out of the atmosphere proportionally, they also get yanked out of the stream of helium as the magnet pulls on them. Lighter isotopes get pulled off course more easily than heavier isotopes, which make it farther down the flight tube. Various collector cups line the inside, and sensors inside the cups register when they are hit with a stable isotope.A sample might register a relatively heavy isotopic signature if enough atoms bang into the farthest cups down the tube — or it might register as a light signature, which is consistent with water from northern latitudes.With the global database of isotopic signatures showing the signatures of water from locations all over the planet, and plenty of their own data, the researchers are able to create two maps. One shows marijuana migration patterns into Alaska, and another, marijuana migration patterns into the Lower 48.What it shows is that the marijuana sampled in the study had taken up water with an isotopic signature consistent with various well locations around Fairbanks, including Water Wagon, a water delivery service. Some of the pot also appears to have been grown in Juneau and British Columbia. Some was consistent with signatures from as far south as Mexico.The findings surprised Goetz, he says. If more data could be analyzed, and further study proved their early conclusions to be correct, he says, “maybe there needs to be a shift in interdiction techniques.”“If we find that more really is being shipped in,” Goetz says, “then you’d have to look at how that’s getting by you.”Still, Goetz and others recognize that plenty of that pot is coming from local growers.“I couldn’t see the profit margin for shipping pot into Alaska when there’s so much already here,” Goetz says. “I can only conclude that the demand [for pot] is greater than publicly suspected.”Goetz has helped bust marijuana grows, and he’s seen a lot of pot in his day. But so has Harvey Goehring, DEA Assistant Special Agent for Alaska. The fact that pot comes to Alaska from somewhere else isn’t news to Goehring, who’s been with the DEA for more than 20 years.“I would ask, ‘Why do you have anybody living anywhere buying dope from somewhere else?’” says Goehring.While stationed in Colombia for two years during the ’90s, Goehring says he once saw a shipping container full of pot — 20,000 pounds of it, plus some coffee — at the Port of Cartagena. Colombia’s cocaine routinely makes its way through Mexico, and into the Lower 48 and Alaska. A lot even gets shipped to Europe, Goehring says. So it’s not surprising that some pot comes here from far away, he says.“We do have a lot of marijuana coming in [to Alaska] from Outside,” Goehring says. “As the DEA, we know that.”Alaskans are a very diverse bunch, Goehring says, and for those who’ve moved here and are seeking drugs, the easiest way to get them is sometimes through contacts back home. It could come in a FedEx box or a flatbed trailer, Goehring says.The hookup in British Columbia made millions of dollars for the criminal marijuana smuggling ring that was busted in 2006.“That street level person, he didn’t know it was B.C. bud, but there were several links back to Canada,” Goehring says.While the study might not be a surprise to Goehring, it is valuable, he says.“Intelligence is always a great thing,” he says. “If somebody hands me a piece of intelligence, I’m not going to say, ‘Oh we don’t need that.’ That’s crazy.”“Whether that’s going to be used in court … I couldn’t honestly say for sure,” Goehring says. Several guilty pleas have been entered for suspects in the flatbed trailer ring, but a couple of the suspects are still awaiting adjudication.Continued funding for Dr. Wooller’s study is currently pending. But he doesn’t think most pot smokers have much to worry about.“They’re not trying to pinpoint some smalltime grower,” he says, “They’re trying to pinpoint bigger, organized crime-type growers.”Complete Title: The High Road: Alaska Researchers Map Marijuana To Its Source Source: Anchorage Press (AK)Author: Casey GrovePublished: June 7, 2007Copyright: 2007 Anchorage Publishing, Inc.Contacr: info anchoragepress.comURL: -- Cannabis Archives
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Comment #8 posted by DjLoTi on June 08, 2007 at 10:32:54 PT
Ya i think the NAU 101 is most useful for the first 30 seconds or so, giving a visual image. Then, the second link with the CNN clip, is better at a more in-depth explanation. I can get the link of the PDF file that was taken from a high-level government and CEO type meeting. It solidifies the argument about the 'elites' trying to create a 1-world government. I agree with you about the global warming, but I don't think these guys are associated with WorldDailyNews. I know the person who made the 3rd link, and kind of know the person who made the 1st link, don't know much about the person who made the second link... But logic fits it into place. 
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Comment #7 posted by whig on June 08, 2007 at 10:19:56 PT
The WorldNetDaily people are a little bit extremist themselves. Rights don't derive from property, in any case.I'm not in favor of a NAU, but global warming and other considerations do require international cooperation to solve.
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Comment #6 posted by JohnO on June 08, 2007 at 09:28:55 PT:
All that science... 
 ...for something that didn't need to be done in the first place. Someone tell me again just who is paying for this? 
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Comment #5 posted by Sam Adams on June 08, 2007 at 08:58:07 PT
Classic Prohibition story
"Getting funding can be difficult, especially with complex, highly regulated projects. Wooller’s proposal succeeded in winning that support, but the real work began when the proposal was accepted. The DEA must regulate all controlled substances, and an agent had to make sure there were controls in place for the marijuana study."Getting funding can be difficult, but not for Marijuana! This guy has joined countless others who have turned to marijuana persecution because they failed in the real world. Nobody gave a rat's ass about this guy while he was collecting finger nails. He was busy flying to Boston to secure his income stream by marrying someone who actually does something useful for humanity.
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Comment #4 posted by DjLoTi on June 08, 2007 at 08:42:23 PT
Good idea :-)We could use it to find the original strains and where they're from, and what the effects are. I think *we* are discovering through brain-storming that different strains from different locations have different effects, and the potential use of those effects could literally change the way we smoke marijuana. Very exciting. 
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Comment #3 posted by dongenero on June 08, 2007 at 08:16:45 PT
isotope analysis of cannabis
I think this research will really find its place after legalization, helping to verify point of origin of cannabis for marketing purposes. It would be great if it can also be used on seeds. Maybe it could verify origin and lineage for seed strains? 
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Comment #2 posted by ekim on June 08, 2007 at 08:15:28 PT
UAF Police Officer Stephen Goetz 
says. “I can only conclude that the demand [for pot] is greater than publicly suspected.” Rusty White--
that after over eighty years and a trillion tax dollars, after terrorizing and locking up 1.6 million citizens of the supposedly "freest people on earth," the bad guys still control every aspect of drugs from price to purity to quantity to age limits. Jun 9 07 KAZM 780 AM Sherman Baldwin 11:15 AM Norm Stamper Sedona Arizona USA Jun 15 07 South-Everett - Mukilteo Rotary 12:15 PM Norm Stamper Everett Washington USA Jun 16 07 National ACLU Bi-annual conference 10:45 AM Norm Stamper Seattle Washington USA 
 Chief Stamper will be part of a panel with Rick Stevens and Angela Davis Jun 19 07 Simmons College 10:45 AM Jack Cole Boston Massachusetts USA 
 Sponsored by Institute for Humane Studies Jun 20 07 Whatcom Newcomers Club 12:00 PM Jim Byron Bellingham Washington USA Jun 20 07 Harm Reduction…"Just Say Know" 09:00 AM Peter Christ Quinte Ontario Canada 
 Harm Reduction Task Force of Quinte Jun 26 07 US Social Forum: Panel~ Ending the Drug War Today N/A Dean Becker Atlanta Georgia USA
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Comment #1 posted by DjLoTi on June 08, 2007 at 01:20:47 PT
This one's for you. Please watch and learn about the NAU. It's so much more scary then the 'drug war'. It's ... the end of everything we know. NAU 101 - CNN clip and other facts from documents of the people trying to do it - more information, please write meHere's a link explaining how American citizens can be forced into work camps by the government, and how the president can take control over congress, the senate, and the judiciary branch. Please watch this video too. are all facts. Thank god for the Drug War, because if it wasn't for something as ridiculous and unfair as that, I wouldn't even know about this website or ron paul or everything I've learned since thenAnd thank god I smoked marijuana... they say it makes you stupider... but look at all I've learned....Enjoy the videos people. 
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