Method to Track and Distinguish Cannabis Species and Source Identification

Preventing RFID Tampering and Incorrect Shipments

At a Glance

Researchers at Colorado State University Pueblo have developed a vegetation identification technique designed to allow regulatory officers and government officials to complete quick onsite differentiation of various vegetation, having immediate applicability in the differentiation of the two, primary species of cannabis and the specific licenses associated with each.


Industries require a reliable test to determine where food products or certain vegetation originated. Traceability, transparency, and authenticity is a necessity. Currently, eTracking technology is utilized, but is too easily tampered with—the information can easily be switched, altered, and even removed.

For example, current cannabis tracking across the nation is regulated by companies that use RFID tags. And although these tags are sufficient at simplifying reporting and compliance processes, chain of custody and traceability can be an issue as tampering with RFID tags is a common issue in the industry.

With the introduction of hemp, or low Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol cannabis, as a legal agricultural commodity across the nation, states will be looking for faster identification methods to distinguish between two plant materials which have different regulatory requirements and in some states different legal status or taxation policies. As high Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol cannabis (commonly referred to as marijuana) is currently considered a schedule 1 drug by the DEA, the danger of accidental transportation is of significant concern.

Conviction can mean substantial fines, revocation of a driver’s license, loss of custodial rights to children, and jail time. Tracking methods through RFID tags do little to prevent the transportation of the wrong product across state lines. In 2017, 40% of the nation’s 1.5 million drug arrests were for cannabis – and it’s predicted these numbers will continue to rise.


Two approaches and processes for field tests that are based on a color change in the presence of a diagnostic molecule, which is designed as a detection technique that allows for officials to complete quick onsite or in the field differentiation between medical and recreational cannabis. This process involves the addition of a molecular tag  that lends itself to simple analysis in the field (a yes or no test), that can be detected via an antibody assay or an enzymatic color change assay. In addition, both procedures can be followed up with a more detailed, sensitive, and selective test in the lab to confirm the identity of the molecular tag. For the laboratory test the molecular tag can be thought of as a chemical barcode into which a variety of information can be coded. These processes can be used separately depending on the application, or together. Furthermore, addition of stable isotope labeling of the molecular tag could be used to provide specific source information for the cannabis in lab tests.


  • Vegetation identification can be seamlessly integrated with current RFID tracking system.
  • Deters RFID tampering.
  • Allows for quick identification of plant species and licenses.
  • Protects manufacturers and customers alike from misidentification of product.
  • Technique is simple to implement with reliable result.


  • Differentiation of organic food products in line with qualifying standards.
  • Differentiation of Cannabis strains and licenses.
Last Updated: March 2024
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