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Forensic Chemistry 3 (2017) 5257

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Forensic Chemistry
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Full length articles

Comparative analysis of freshly harvested cannabis plant weight and


dried cannabis plant weight
Marcus L. Warner , Ilene Alford, Diana M. Lawrence, Amber C. Kohl, Steven J. Williams, Dustin T. Yeatman
Palm Beach County Sheriffs Office, 3228 Gun Club Road, West Palm Beach, FL 33406, USA

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Forensic chemists frequently conduct weight analyses of seized drugs to determine criminal trafficking
Received 17 November 2016 thresholds. Drug weights remain relatively constant from the time of seizure until their analysis; how-
Accepted 7 February 2017 ever, the weight of freshly harvested cannabis plants changes over time as a consequence of drying. A
Available online 9 February 2017
decrease in the chemists recorded weight is therefore observed. Core samples were taken 03 days after
seizure from bulk cannabis cases. Weight, date, time, temperature, and relative humidity data were
Keywords: recorded over a period of 021 days. The most significant loss in weight occurred in 13 days of the dry-
Forensic science
ing process and weights plateaued after one week. Cannabis lost between 25 and 77% of its original
Forensic chemistry
Marijuana
weight stored at an average of 22.2 C and 49% relative humidity. Environmental conditions are expected
Cannabis to alter weight loss and time of the drying process. Quantifying the weight difference after a seizure can
Wet serve to explain general quantitative differences in recorded weights in a case.
Dry 2017 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Weight loss

1. Introduction zures [1]. While grow houses remain of concern in South Florida,
the number is minimal when compared to all other cannabis sei-
In forensic testing laboratories conducting controlled sub- zures, which typically consist of marijuana samples that are dried
stances analyses, chemists are routinely tasked with accurately and packaged either for sale or personal use. In fact, less than 2% of
and reliably measuring weights of substances since penalties for all cannabis cases submitted for analysis to the Forensic Chemistry
drug offenses are often determined by the weight of the drug iden- Unit at the Palm Beach County Sheriffs Office (PBSO) in 2014
tified. Criminal penalties for a misdemeanor possession charge are involved a grow house seizure; however, the majority of such sei-
significantly less than penalties for felony drug trafficking charges, zures are those involving a trafficking amount containing fresh
which require a mandatory long-term prison sentence. Therefore, plants [2].
the accuracy and reliability of weight determinations is of the Cannabis seizures, whether freshly harvested or dried, are
utmost importance. known to retain variable moisture content with live cannabis
Forensic chemists may need to address differences in docu- plants estimated to consist of up to 80% water. According to one
mented cannabis weight measurements. Differences between an source, upon drying at room temperature, nearly 1012% of this
officers reported cannabis weight compared to a lab-bench che- moisture is retained [3]. The United Nations Office on Drugs and
mists reported weight sometimes can be substantial. As a result, Crime reports that cannabis may be air-dried in approximately
chemists may be challenged to explain the cause of cannabis 2472 h depending on air humidity and temperature [4]. It has
weight differences during depositions and/or trials. been estimated that a 70% weight loss occurs over the course of
Significant weight differences are frequently observed in cases 3 days at ambient temperature and that the resulting water con-
concerning cannabis seized from grow houses or operations where tent retained within the cannabis will be roughly 813% [4,5].
sizeable quantities of cannabis are manufactured. Grow houses are A report, which evaluated the volatile oil composition of fresh
not unusual in South Florida, where cannabis is widely available and air-dried cannabis buds, documented a total weight loss over
and commonly abused. The southern region accounted for nearly specified periods of time. In preparation of the cannabis buds for
40% of the total grow house seizures throughout the state and is volatile oil analysis, three separate samples, each containing 15 g
second only to California in the number of overall grow house sei- of buds, were air-dried and yielded a dried weight total of 3.77,
3.7 and 3.5 g in the course of 1, 4 and 12 weeks, respectively [6].
Corresponding author at: Palm Beach County Sheriffs Office, Crime Laboratory Calculating the weight loss of these samples relates to an esti-
Chemistry Unit, West Palm Beach, FL 33406, USA. mated 7477% water loss.
E-mail address: warnerm@pbso.org (M.L. Warner).

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.forc.2017.02.001
2468-1709/ 2017 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
M.L. Warner et al. / Forensic Chemistry 3 (2017) 5257 53

In an effort to locate and review scientific literature addressing outlier; therefore, it was excluded from the data set after evaluation of the data
determined that the average sample required approximately 5 days for total dry-
time-period weight loss in cannabis, an extensive search using key-
ness to occur.
words such as harvesting, drying, weight loss and water loss was
conducted via PubMed, Google Scholar, and Science Direct. While
2.2. Cannabis confirmation
reports indicate weight loss occurs, literature was not identified
that contained quantifiable data for weight differences between Prior to data collection, each of the samples were analyzed using macroscopic
freshly harvested and dried cannabis samples. Specifically, data examination, microscopic examination and a Rapid-Modified Duquenois-Levine
as the result of direct measurements of the overall weight loss color test as per the PBSO Chemistry Unit Methods Manual procedures. Once can-
nabis was confirmed, plant material was removed and added directly into a tared
are unavailable.
empty paper bag where it was stored in a secure, temperature and humidity-
The study presented herein originated as the result of an controlled isolated room within the PBSO Chemistry Unit.
increase in the judicially related scrutiny of weight differences
throughout the United States and limited scientific research docu- 2.3. Weight measurement and data collection
menting the total weight loss of freshly harvested cannabis during
the drying process. A total of ten weight measurements were taken for each sample (Table 1).
Beginning with the initial weight measurement (Collection Point 0), each samples
weight was then measured over a period of up to twenty-one days for a total of ten
2. Materials and methods measurements to ensure total dryness was reached. Weight measurements were
conducted using top-loading balance models PG5002-S and XS6002S (Mettler-
2.1. Sample source Toledo, Columbus, OH). The balances had corresponding uncertainty of measure-
ments of 0.26 and 0.22 g, respectively, at a coverage probability of 99.73%
Samples obtained from freshly harvested cannabis plants acquired from grow (n  200). The study was carried out at ambient temperature (Table 3). In addition
operations within Palm Beach County were used in this study (n = 36). Specific to the date and time of the measurement, temperature and relative humidity were
details concerning the plants growing conditions were not provided. Nearly all sei- also documented using a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
zures from grow operations in Palm Beach County involve plants growing indoors traceable thermometer located in close proximity to the samples and maintained
and in soil; however, information was not provided indicating if the plants in these in the storage room of the Unit.
operations were grown hydroponically or in soil, or if they were grown inside or
outside. Once seized, officers randomly selected and removed a small representa-
tive quantity or core sample, which was taken prior to or at the time of submission 3. Results and discussion
to the Crime Laboratory. A competent, qualified chemist was promptly notified in
order to proceed with analysis. Macroscopic examination, microscopic examination, and a
Thirty-six core samples were taken from suspected cannabis grow house cases.
Data from 35 of the samples were collected 03 days prior to collection point 0
Rapid-Modified Duquenois-Levine color test were positive for each
(date of submission to the laboratory). Analysis of the 36th sample began 5 days fol- of the core samples. The cannabis samples averaged 20.64 g with
lowing its seizure as limited by analyst availability. This sample was considered an weight ranges between 19.94 and 23.60 g at Collection Point 0

Table 1
Weight measurements for 35 cannabis samples.

Sample number Number of days between Collection point (g)


seizure and collection point 0
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
1 1 19.98 10.89 4.93 4.85 4.85 4.86 4.84 4.85 4.86 4.92
2 1 19.96 12.51 5.42 5.32 5.28 5.36 5.64 5.39 5.33 5.37
3 1 19.99 12.57 8.40 6.62 6.50 6.48 6.48 6.52 6.51 6.50
4 2 20.13 12.84 7.64 7.41 7.29 7.28 7.26 7.30 7.43 7.29
5 1 20.33 9.52 6.68 6.49 6.35 6.28 6.28 6.31 6.29 6.28
6 2 20.72 8.59 8.26 8.05 7.95 7.91 7.96 7.94 7.93 7.94
7 1 20.00 6.11 5.36 5.13 5.05 5.00 4.96 4.97 4.95 4.98
8 1 19.94 7.18 7.12 7.14 7.13 7.35 7.18 7.15 7.12 7.23
9 1 20.49 11.74 8.43 7.09 6.98 6.88 6.90 6.85 6.86 6.88
10 3 21.18 15.39 12.36 11.37 11.01 10.97 10.96 10.90 10.93 10.92
11 1 19.98 10.45 6.87 5.55 5.50 5.76 5.47 5.46 5.55 5.50
12 3 20.51 11.08 10.86 10.78 11.74 10.75 10.81 10.85 10.82 10.83
13 0 20.02 12.23 7.13 5.63 5.20 5.21 5.18 5.14 5.17 5.20
14 1 22.06 7.18 7.06 6.96 6.93 6.90 6.91 6.86 6.90 6.88
15 1 20.13 5.75 5.44 5.35 5.34 5.31 5.28 5.26 5.27 5.29
16 3 20.11 10.25 9.63 9.62 9.62 9.51 9.50 9.43 9.42 9.19
17 1 19.98 10.46 7.36 7.35 7.35 7.33 7.35 7.39 7.41 7.40
18 1 20.01 7.22 7.01 6.96 6.94 6.88 6.87 6.86 6.88 6.90
19 1 20.11 13.72 5.67 5.39 5.41 5.26 5.19 5.45 5.24 5.18
20 1 20.41 7.02 6.71 6.55 6.46 6.50 6.55 6.53 6.63 6.61
21 1 19.98 7.84 7.42 7.28 7.27 7.24 7.21 7.21 7.20 7.20
22 0 19.97 12.12 7.63 4.59 4.58 4.52 4.52 4.50 4.53 4.51
23 1 21.85 10.24 9.78 9.70 9.66 9.63 9.68 9.64 9.61 9.60
24 3 23.60 17.85 13.85 10.71 8.82 7.14 7.00 6.97 6.96 6.95
25 1 20.16 13.58 8.17 7.98 7.91 7.83 7.82 7.78 7.81 7.81
26 1 20.93 8.11 7.57 7.43 7.40 7.37 7.52 7.34 7.34 7.31
27 1 20.20 9.27 8.89 8.69 8.64 8.54 8.46 8.44 8.39 8.39
28 0 20.01 15.93 11.93 6.23 5.83 5.57 5.51 5.49 5.51 5.50
29 0 20.50 15.08 5.86 5.12 4.93 4.87 4.83 4.76 4.79 4.78
30 1 20.92 8.53 7.10 6.41 6.17 6.05 5.96 5.96 5.96 5.93
31 1 21.92 8.24 7.19 6.82 6.68 6.60 6.49 6.52 6.49 6.47
32 2 22.38 15.74 11.99 6.23 6.07 6.01 5.94 5.98 5.98 6.00
33 1 23.28 9.04 7.84 7.14 6.83 6.63 6.49 6.47 6.44 6.46
34 1 20.17 15.21 7.54 6.91 6.69 6.59 6.45 6.40 6.37 6.39
35 3 20.06 17.12 15.76 15.33 15.12 15.02 14.96 14.94 14.95 14.68
54 M.L. Warner et al. / Forensic Chemistry 3 (2017) 5257

Table 2
Percent weight loss for 35 cannabis samples.

Sample number Number of days between Weight loss after each consecutive collection point (%) Total net weight loss (%)
seizure and initial weight
01 12 23 34 45 56 67 78 89
1 1 45.50 54.73 1.62 0.00 0.21 0.41 0.21 0.21 1.23 75.73
2 1 37.32 56.67 1.85 0.75 1.52 5.22 4.43 1.11 0.75 73.35
3 1 37.12 33.17 21.19 1.81 0.31 0.00 0.62 0.15 0.15 67.48
4 2 36.21 40.50 3.01 1.62 0.14 0.27 0.55 1.78 1.88 63.79
5 1 53.17 29.83 2.84 2.16 1.10 0.00 0.48 0.32 0.16 69.11
6 2 58.54 3.84 2.54 1.24 0.50 0.63 0.25 0.13 0.13 61.63
7 1 69.45 12.27 4.29 1.56 0.99 0.80 0.20 0.40 0.61 74.75
8 1 63.99 0.84 0.28 0.14 3.09 2.31 0.42 0.42 1.54 64.29
9 1 42.70 28.19 15.90 1.55 1.43 0.29 0.72 0.15 0.29 65.93
10 3 27.34 19.69 8.01 3.17 0.36 0.09 0.55 0.28 0.09 48.21
11 1 47.70 34.26 19.21 0.90 4.73 5.03 0.18 1.65 0.90 72.47
12 3 45.98 1.99 0.74 8.91 8.43 0.56 0.37 0.28 0.09 47.05
13 0 38.91 41.70 21.04 7.64 0.19 0.58 0.77 0.58 0.58 73.98
14 1 67.45 1.67 1.42 0.43 0.43 0.14 0.72 0.58 0.29 68.00
15 1 71.44 5.39 1.65 0.19 0.56 0.56 0.38 0.19 0.38 73.42
16 3 49.03 6.05 0.10 0.00 1.14 0.11 0.74 0.11 2.44 52.16
17 1 47.65 29.64 0.14 0.00 0.27 0.27 0.54 0.27 0.13 63.21
18 1 63.92 2.91 0.71 0.29 0.86 0.15 0.15 0.29 0.29 65.22
19 1 31.78 58.67 4.94 0.37 2.77 1.33 5.01 3.85 1.15 73.10
20 1 65.61 4.42 2.38 1.37 0.62 0.77 0.31 1.53 0.30 68.35
21 1 60.76 5.36 1.89 0.14 0.41 0.41 0.00 0.14 0.00 63.56
22 0 39.31 37.05 39.84 0.22 1.31 0.00 0.44 0.67 0.44 77.07
23 1 53.14 4.49 0.82 0.41 0.31 0.52 0.41 0.31 0.10 55.61
24 3 24.36 22.41 22.67 17.65 19.05 1.96 0.43 0.14 0.14 70.34
25 1 32.64 39.84 2.33 0.88 1.01 0.13 0.51 0.39 0.00 60.76
26 1 61.25 6.66 1.85 0.40 0.41 2.04 2.39 0.00 0.41 64.50
27 1 54.11 4.10 2.25 0.58 1.16 0.94 0.24 0.59 0.00 57.23
28 0 20.39 25.11 47.78 6.42 4.46 1.08 0.36 0.36 0.18 72.46
29 0 26.44 61.14 12.63 3.71 1.22 0.82 1.45 0.63 0.21 76.24
30 1 59.23 16.76 9.72 3.74 1.94 1.49 0.00 0.00 0.50 71.08
31 1 62.41 12.74 5.15 2.05 1.20 1.67 0.46 0.46 0.31 69.89
32 2 29.67 23.82 48.04 2.57 0.99 1.16 0.67 0.00 0.33 73.15
33 1 61.17 13.27 8.93 4.34 2.93 2.11 0.31 0.46 0.31 72.21
34 1 24.59 50.43 8.36 3.18 1.49 2.12 0.78 0.47 0.31 67.33
35 3 14.66 7.94 2.73 1.37 0.66 0.40 0.13 0.07 1.81 24.63

Table 3 sis since this sample, compared with all other samples, consisted
Storage room temperature and humidity conditions.
primarily of stalks and leaves.
Average Deviation The average weight loss for 34 samples in the study was
Temperature (C) 22.2 1.0 13.51 2.26 g (range = 9.7316.65 g), which translates into an
Relative Humidity (%) 49 3 average weight loss percent of 66.66 10.38% (Table 5). Percent
weight loss for the samples ranged from a minimum of 47.44%
and a maximum of 77.07% (Fig. 2).
Table 4 Considering the time point when the cannabis plants were
Number of days until dryness. seized, the greatest weight loss occurred for 20 of the study sam-
ples within 2 days from the time of seizure (Table 6).
From collection point 0 From day since seizure
Four of the 34 samples were weighed within the same day of
Average 3.6 4.8
the seizure, while over half (a total of 23 of the samples) under-
Minimum 2 3
Maximum 6 9 went weighing 1 day following the seizure (Fig. 3). In the latter
sample set, less overall cumulative weight loss was observed. A
total of three and four samples were weighed 2 and 3 days from
the seizure, respectively.
(Table 1). The average temperature was 22.2 1.0 C and ranged As is common with routine submissions of suspected cannabis
from 19.4 to 25.3 C and the relative humidity averaged a total of to crime laboratories, one factor that could not be controlled
49 3% and ranged from 31 to 60% (Table 3). within this study was the variability in the physiology of cannabis.
The minimum number of days required for a sample to reach Initially it was believed that visual inspection of the plants gross
dryness was 3 days from the time of seizure (Table 4, Fig. 1). In morphological characteristics with respect to leaves, stems and
one instance however, 9 days was required for a sample to com- buds could be effectively grouped; however, it was determined
pletely dry. On average it was observed that approximately 4 that due to variability between samples and inherent subjectivity
5 days were necessary for most cannabis samples to reach dryness. in sample examination among analysts, classification was not rea-
A sample was determined to be completely dry when the day-to- sonable and therefore excluded from this study.
day weight change did not exceed the most conservative uncer- Cannabis plants consist of a wide assortment of varieties or
tainty of measurement. Therefore, each sample that changed less strains, which can lead to variations in the composition of the
than 0.26 g from one day to the next was considered completely material being evaluated [3,7]. Where strains vary, so does the
dried. Sample 35, which experienced the lowest weight loss of variability in leaf and stem characteristics including differences
25%, was considered an outlier and not included in the data analy- in the size of leaves, quantity of leaflets, and stem arrangement
M.L. Warner et al. / Forensic Chemistry 3 (2017) 5257 55

Days Unl Dryness


16
14

Number of Samples
12
10
8
6
4
2
0
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Days from Seizure

Fig. 1. Number of days until dryness from time of seizure.

Table 5 Other important morphological features affecting physiology


Weight loss total. are differences in a cannabis plants flowering and size as in effect
Loss (g) Loss (%) of age [7] and sex [8]. Mature female plants exhibit higher levels of
Average 13.51 66.66
cannabinoids compared to young female and male plants [8,9]. An
Minimum 9.73 47.44 increase in glandular trichome density occurs not only due to mat-
Maximum 16.65 77.07 uration but also in xeric conditions or where moisture is minimal
[10]. This increase correlates with a change in desiccation stress
and overall water retention [11,12]. As a consequence, considera-
[3,4]. In addition, plants can vary with respect to the numbers and tion to flowering tops, leaves, and stalks should be given for vari-
size of leaves and stalks. Considering that plant leaves contain 40 ability in overall water content.
90% water while stalks, which are more fibrous and contain less Cannabis growing conditions also play an important role.
water ranging from 30 to 50%, the potential for weight measure- Through use of certain growing techniques and other external fac-
ment variation is expected. tors, overall composition can vary [4]. Water, stress, solar radiation

Total Weight Loss


4

3
Number of Samples

0
45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80

Weight Loss (%)

Fig. 2. Overall percentage of weight loss for 34 samples.


56 M.L. Warner et al. / Forensic Chemistry 3 (2017) 5257

Table 6 For this study, Collection Point 0 is not synonymous with the
Greatest single day weight loss occurring since time of seizure. day on which the samples were seized. Of the 34 core samples
Day between collection points studied, weighing began on the day that cannabis was seized for
12 23 34 45 only four of the samples. Fig. 3 illustrates the cumulative weight
loss that occurred for these four samples. In comparison, the
Number of samples 20 8 5 1
Average loss (%) 57.25 50.81 37.44 48.04
weight loss of the majority of samples (23 total) one day after sei-
zure as illustrated also in Fig. 3 exhibited a slightly smaller cumu-
lative weight loss total and a more variable weight range
and humidity may contribute to the rates of transpiration, which comparably; however, the average cumulative weight loss is simi-
can in turn impact the ability of the plant to uptake and retain lar to that of the four samples measured on the day of the seizure.
water [3,13]. Other factors to consider with regards to water reten- Ideally, measurements would have been taken immediately after
tion of a plant are soil composition and climate changes [3,14]. the plants were seized; however, times to complete seizures and
Cannabis grow houses may exist either indoors or outdoors [1]. submit the samples for analysis could not be controlled by the lab-
Some utilize intricate watering methods such as hydroponics in a oratory. In addition, holidays and weekends prohibited consecutive
temperature controlled environment, which are also likely to con- measurements from occurring.
tribute to greater water retention versus a plant that is in a drought A total of 20 samples or 59% of the samples experienced the
state [3]. greatest single day weight loss 2 days after the seizure. Looking
The variability in composition and growing conditions would specifically at the four samples analyzed on the same day as the
explain the wide distribution in weight loss among samples as seizure, two samples experienced the greatest weight loss 2 days
illustrated in Table 2 and Fig. 2. Total weight loss, from as low as following the seizure, while the other two samples had the greatest
47% and as high as 77%, are demonstrated. Although a normal dis- weight loss on the 3rd day. Reasons for the increased weight loss
tribution of weight loss was not observed and plant variety could during the 2nd and 3rd day after seizure could not be determined
not be predicted, nearly two thirds of all the samples exhibited a by this study. Factors that could not be controlled as previously
weight loss from 64 to 74%. An average of 66.66% weight loss for discussed are considered negligible relative to the overall consis-
all samples was recorded. Thirty-one samples lost more than half tency of observable data.
of their total weight.
When considering the overall drying time, 5 days was sufficient 4. Conclusions
for approximately 79% of the samples to be completely dry while
up to 9 days was necessary from the time the fresh plants were Water is present in all living plants; therefore, fresh cannabis
seized for some samples. Allowing cannabis to dry for at least plants once harvested will dry, thereby decreasing in weight over
9 days in a controlled environment will help to ensure dryness. time. This study evaluated the weight loss that occurs in freshly
Drying time will likely vary depending on the drying environment harvested cannabis plants that are stored in ambient temperature
since humidity and temperature play an integral role in the and humidity controlled conditions. A dearth of scientific literature
process. reporting how much weight loss can be expected during the canna-

Fig. 3. Cumulative weight loss from samples weighed the same day as the seizure and one day after the seizure.
M.L. Warner et al. / Forensic Chemistry 3 (2017) 5257 57

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