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June 12, 1971 - Image 6

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1971-06-12

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Page Six


Saturday, June 12, 1971

Police lab: Checking out the dope

Special to The Daily
LANSING - Three friends
are driving along the highway
smoking a joint. All of a sud-
den they spy two flashing lights
in the rear-view mirror. As
they pull over to wait for the
state trooper to approach t h e
car, someone quickly, in panic,
throws the stash out the win-
dow. It lands right in the hands
of a second officer - approach-
ing unexpectedly on the other
side of the car.
It was intended to be a rou-
tine check, but the three find
themselves booked for posses-
sion of marijuana.
"These kinds of incidents are
not at all unusual," says Sgt.
R. P. Rolandson, a lab special-

the number has jumped to over
5000 annually.
"We maintain that it is easy
to tell marijuana," says Ro-
landson, who has been with the
lab since its inception, "b ut
the lawyers seem to differ."
The Lansing lab identifies
marijuana using microscopic
analysis - one of the few labs
in the country which does not
rely on chemical analysis of
the weed's active ingredient,
THC (tetrahydra cannabiol).
According to Rolandson, who
received a B.S. in botany at the
University, marijuana has a
unique morphology, easily iden-
tifiable under the microscope
from even its closest botanical
relative - hops.
By using biological analysis,
it is possible to identify t h e
plants as marijuana even if the
THC is chemically inert. In
police work, this is especially
important because Michigan
law does not specifically p r o-
hibit THC, but possession of the
marijuana weed itself.
In 1964, Rolandson notes, in
excess of 25 per cent of all ma-
terial confiscated was not mari-
juana. Now this figure has
dropped considerably to less
than ten per cent. Rolandson
attributes this drop to a more
knowledgeable police force and
a huge increase in the amount
of marijuana around.
In addition, the six officers
who work solely with marijuana
have refined the identification
process, having dealt with over
7000 samples over the last seven
THE MARIJUANA, as well as
other evidence, arrives at the
lab through sealed envelopes or
is brought there personally by
the arresting officer.
Once examined, the evidence
is resealed and held until it is
needed in court. "When deal-
ing with evidence," says Ro-
landson, "We must be careful to
keep the chain of custody
Although the rules and pro-
cedures for handling the evi-
dence are stringent, there is
nothing to prevent an officer, if
he wishes, to substitute o t h e r
materials - except for his per-
sonal integrity or fear of re-
At one time the technicians
spent nearly as much time in
court as in the lab. "In 1966,
I used to schedule every Wed-
nesday to be in court in Ann
Arbor for marijana cases,"
says Rolandson. "One time I
testified nine times in one day."
Recently, however, the court

Officers discuss their work in the lab

Sgt. Rolandson
ish in the Lansing state police
marijuana analysis laboratory.
Hundreds of samples of mari-
juana, confiscated after an ar-
rest are sent to the laboratories
annually to be analyzed, iden-
tified and later used in court,
But marijuana does not oc-
cupy all the time of the 18
Lansing officers who are invol-,
ved in the crime lab. There are
also facilities to deal with fire-
arms and ammunition identifi-
cation, microchemical analysis
of narcotics and hallucinogenic
Besides the crime lab in Lan-
sing, the state police maintain
two others - in Warren and in
Plymouth - and there is a
fourth being built in Holland.
The lab in Lansing alone is
appropriated $1,200,000 to cov-
er wages and equipment.
The operations of the labs
have skyrocketed over the past
seven years. In 1964, when the
marijuana division of the Lan-
sing lab was first opened, less
than 40 cases were identified as
marijuana. Since then, however,

has permitted Rolandson and
other officers to submit a writ-
ten report of their analysis for
purposes of pre-trial examina-
tions, though they are still re-
quired to appear for the actual
Though marijuana arrests us-
ually occur while police are in-
specting for other reasons, Ro-
landson gave one not so com-
mon example.
"One day an officer heard
that a local gas station owner
was dealing grass. Consequent-
ly, he drove to the station in
uniform and in his police car
and asked the owner for some
"The owner rushed to stash
and appeared with a small, bag
of grass which he sold to the
officer for $10. After his arrest
the only excuse he used was
that he thought the cop wanted
to smoke."
Though Rolandson says that
"blowing grass" goes against his
own set of values, he says that
most users he has met are basi-
cally "not bad people." "I think
their set of values is wrong,
but that is only because I mea-
sure it against mine," he adds.
AROUND THE corner from
the marijuana lab, six other of-
ficers work with identifying
firearms' and ammunition rang-
ing from cufflink-size pistols to
machine guns.
Decorating the walls is an
exhaustive hand gun collection
which Rolandson claims is the
finest in the country - possi-
bly excepting the FBI. "We
have over 1200 hand guns in
our collection, which is worth
somewhere between $50,000 and
The most common use of the
collections is to facilitate t h e
location of erased, serial num-
bers on confiscated g u n s.
However, the most important
use of the lab centers around
identifying bullets and the
guns from which they were
Without such identification,
many cases could not be proven
in court. One of the -officers in
the lab unexpectedly pulls an un-
loaded gun: "Now suppost I were
to pull the trigger, and as a re-
sult you are killed," he says.
"There are four witnesses here
who saw me pull the trigger and
saw you fall, but could any of
theim prove I shot you?" he said.
"Of course not," he continues,
"since someone else could have
fired a gun at exactly the same
time from the hall and that
could have been the deadly shot.".
"However, with the bullet
analysis, we can conclusively
prove that it was a particular
bullet which killed a person and
that it came from a particular
gun, Rolandson says. "The only
problem is," he adds, "we often
have the bullet and the gun, but
we can't find the guy who did
A typical analysis begins when

an officer comes in with a single
bullet and says "tell me all you
can about it." By examining the
bullet, the lab technician can
determine the caliber of the gun,
the twist and number of-groves
of the barrel. This information is
usually sufficient to determine
the manufacture and quite often
the particular model.
Approximately 200 cases like
this are examined every year al-
though technicians, in the ma-
jority of cases-over 1000 a year
-have both the gun and the bul-
let to examine.
These examinations are per-
formed using a comparison meth-
od-firing a bullet out of the
questioned gun and comparing
the markings of the bullet with
that of the confiscated bullet un-
der a stereoscopic microscope.
If the patterns match, the offic-
ers are able to conclude that the

work. The thought never enters
your mind since you are shaking
so much. You just hope to hit
Rolandson gives an example of
a trooper who had won top prize
in a national shooting contest.
Soon afterwards he was involved
in a gun battle over the hood of
his car where he failed to land a
single shot because he was "so
scared." It was not until his op-
ponent fled from the car that he
was able to hit him.
Rolandson adds that it is com-
mon for two people in a gun fight
within 21 feet of each other to
end up with both guns empty
and neither side scoring a hit.
Adjacent to the gun library
is the narcotics section, where
analyses are run on heroin, co-
caine, other opiates, barbituates
and some hallucogens.
The narcotics and hallucino-


bullet was indeed fired from that
THE POLICEMEN working in
the lad have experience with guns
that goes beyond analyzing them.
All have been "cops on the beat"
for one to four years before work-
ing in the lab.
On the beat, a policeman may
have occasion to shoot his gun,
and it has often been noted that
police are instructed to "shoot
to wound," rather than "shoot
to kill."
But according to Rolandson,
police shoot "to hit." "A gun
fight is a terrifying experience,"
he says. "When chasing or shoot-
ing it out with someone you pull
the trigger and hope to christ ysu
hit something.
"Theoretically you try to
wound, not kill, but it doesn't
/ by Jim Judkis

gens are identified both by exam-
inisg crystal structure and by
chemical analysis. The most
startling finding is that they have
not found one case of real mesca-
line, THC or psilocybin during
the existence of the lab. The of-
ficers said the most common drug
labeled as mescaline actually is
LSD or phencycladine (PCP), a
horse tranquilizer.
After deposition of the cases all
drugs are returned to the- labs
where they are destroyed. Nar-
cotics and hallucinogens are
washed down the sink while .grass
is burned in an incinerator.
Originally, when large hauls of
grass were confiscated the entire
amount was held until the case
was settled. This, however, cre-
ated a problem.
"One of our largest hauls was
250 lbs. of grass," notes officer
Don Collins. "It was wet through
so we decided to dry it out. We
spread paper all over the floor
of the lab and left it over night.
When we returned the next morn-
ing the lab was infested with little
orange worms hatched from the
Continued on Page 7

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