This summer, the police sought to end the illicit harvests and began closely monitoring the area where the plant grows wild, arresting people in the fields. The efforts culminated in October with indictments that were handed up against 47 people.
To local residents, like Randall Dyke, it was just another weed.
"I'd heard years ago that it grew wild, but I didn't know it was as bad as they made it out in the newspaper," said Larry Moyers of Moorefield.
The police also began to hear that marijuana from here was being shipped out of the state.
"I'd be out there fishing and I'd see them running by," said Larry Snyder, a local barber. "When they're carrying trash bags, you know they're not fishing."
Now, after sequencing and analyzing more than 100 whole Cannabis sativa genomes, researchers say that the wild plants that gave rise to today’s psychoactive strains as well as the fibrous varieties used in textiles likely came from East Asia—or present-day China. The analysis also suggests that cannabis took its first steps toward domestication somewhere in China about 12,000 years ago.
“They harvested 12 million SNPs [single nucleotide polymorphisms] for analysis,” says John McPartland, a botanist and physician at the University of Vermont who was not involved in the paper. A SNP is a single location within a genome that differs compared to a reference genome, and SNPs can be sources of variation within a species. Getting 12 million SNPs for cannabis is “astounding,” says McPartland, “previous studies were in the thousands.”
Researchers say that wild plants that gave rise to today’s three lineages of cannabis grew in present-day China. Joseph Eid / AFP via Getty Images