Can a spritz of DNA solve Colorado’s weed problem?

Use and possession of cannabis is illegal under U.S. federal law. But policies regarding medicinal and recreational use vary greatly at the state level.

Colorado famously legalized marijuana in 2014, authorizing licensed growers to cultivate and sell pot locally.

The state’s $1.5 billion industry, however, has been threatened by criminal activity, like moving product over state lines or forging paperwork. And it’s becoming a problem for law enforcement. But a solution may arrive this summer. Last year, Applied DNA Sciences introduced its textile molecular tag technology, SigNature T, used to verify and track premium American cotton from gin to shirt.

The same method could be applied to marijuana plants, identifying legal cannabis via a microscopic encrypted barcode.

As described by Popular Mechanics, the system works by bonding to the plant without changing its DNA. These tags, engineered to hold up to 250 bits of information in the sequence of DNA nucleotides, can endure processing, and even shows up in refined products like oils and edibles.

They use minimal moisture and dissolve in water to avoid affecting the plants.

To analyze, simply feed a piece of the product into Applied DNA’s SigNify portable reader to confirm its farm, strain, and permit number.

According to Popular Mechanics, the contents of each marker is secure—Applied DNA employees can access only portions—ensuring they can’t be copied.

The New York-based company did not immediately respond to Geek’s request for comment.

Illegal weed tracking technology has made headlines in Colorado since early this year, when a new bill proposed all cannabis plants in the state be marked with a chemical tracking agent to help police locally grown hemp and marijuana.

The bill, however, requires the Colorado State University Pueblo to “develop marijuana tracking technology” that can be scanned by a device, which must be approved by the Department of Revenue’s marijuana state licensing authority.

A second, similar piece of legislation introduced in April was shot down almost instantly by the Colorado General Assembly.

“During the 2018 legislative session, two bills were introduced that would’ve allowed the development of an agent to be applied to a marijuana plant that could be scanned in order to determine if it was cultivated by a licensed business or not,” a spokesman from Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office told Geek in an email. “Both … were postponed indefinitely by the General Assembly.”

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