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Samoan cop sacrifices years with his family to study cannabis in NZ

Source: Stuff New Zealand

Auckland, NEW ZEALAND  — A quietly spoken police officer, dressed in trademark black boots and blue-on-blue is hunched over a lab table examining a huge fist of cannabis.

Kent Onesemo is one of 10 forensic police officers in Samoa. But the father of three has big dreams of making changes in his field of expertise.

For the past two years, Onesemo has been living in central Auckland, studying the potency of New Zealand and Samoan cannabis with the Institute of Environmental Science and Research's [ESR] drug chemistry team. 

His landmark thesis, which aims to create a baseline for future research to build upon, might just be what Kiwis will soon need to make an informed decision in the upcoming referendum to decriminalise cannabis.

He also wants to improve the reliability of forensic evidence in Samoa and increase its use in courtrooms.


Onesemo speaks so demurely it's hard to hear what he is saying. But he laughs out loud when asked if he brought the Samoan cannabis samples to New Zealand in his carry-on. 

The 27-year-old's research is funded by a Science Support Award and represents a collaborative effort between Samoa and New Zealand police, the University of Auckland and ESR.

One of his aims is to pinpoint the origins of different strains of cannabis and if it can be traced back to a specific location by using what is called elemental profiles.

He and his thesis supervisor Cameron Johnson, who is a senior ESR scientist, wanted to be able to compare cannabis varieties from the Pacific Islands with samples collected by New Zealand police during national operations. 

So in July last year, Onesemo flew home to the Samoan island of Upolu and spent several weeks convincing the head of narcotics, and then the commissioner of police, to source the samples and sign the paperwork.

After some back-and-forth sorting out samples and licenses, Onesemo got his wish.

"That was a big win for my thesis – and also for Samoa."

Then he waited patiently for it to arrive at the ESR's Auckland lab, where he has been studying for the past two years. 

"It took a while, but I got there." 

Cannabis is illegal in both New Zealand and Samoa, and Onesemo hopes his research will help his fellow police officers identify suspects and their products more efficiently.

Read more at Stuff New Zealand