As recreational marijuana slowly becomes legal across North America, many police departments are forced to make tough decisions with their K9 units. The major issue cops now face is whether to train drug-sniffing dogs to detect the scent of marijuana. In many states where pot is legal, this skill is turning into both a legal and financial hardship. Let’s explore some of the issues K9s face as marijuana becomes decriminalized.
Legal Issues: The Case of Kilo
One recent Colorado case highlighted the major legal issue facing older narcotics dogs: the lack of probable cause.
This case involved a Moffat County drug-sniffing dog named Kilo who, in addition to marijuana, could recognize meth, heroin, ecstasy, and cocaine. Allegedly, Kilo alerted police officers to an illegal substance in a resident’s truck in February of 2015. When police searched the man’s truck, they soon discovered traces of meth.
In the first trial, the man who allegedly had the meth was found guilty. However, the Colorado Court of Appeals overturned this decision citing a lack of probable cause.
According to the appeals judges, the police had no right to investigate this man’s truck because Kilo couldn’t say whether he smelt cannabis or meth. Since marijuana has been legal in Colorado since 2012, citizens over the age of 21 have the right to privacy if they have this substance in their possession.
As you could imagine, this decision forced police units across the USA to rethink the legal implications of training drug-sniffing dogs. Indeed, many police units in states where pot is legal (e.g. Oregon, Maine, and Vermont) only want dogs that can’t detect the scent of marijuana.
Interestingly, a few states where pot is illegal also don’t want marijuana-sniffing dogs. For instance, police troops in Texas have stopped ordering K9s that can detect marijuana. Currently, only CBD oil for epileptic patients is allowed in the Lone Star State, but police officers apparently don’t believe it will stay that way forever.
Financial Challenges: The Cost Of K9s
In addition to the legal issues, many police units don’t believe these older narcotics dogs are worth the financial risk. Since they can’t re-train dogs to un-learn marijuana scents, chiefs will need to invest in younger dogs that aren’t trained to recognize marijuana.
On the low end, K9s cost about $6,000 in the USA, and that doesn’t include thousands more that have to be spent in proper training. In Canada, new dogs initially cost about $5,000.
While the outpouring of generosity has helped many units, it’s likely police units will require more funding from the government in the future.
Where Will Retired Dogs Go?
As older narcotics K9s are slowly retired from the force, many people are concerned about the well being of these dogs.
This issue was of central concern to residents of Illinois after a dog trainer said many older narcotics K9s would need to be put down. The K9 trainer made this comment in 2017 while Illinois lawmakers considered legalizing recreational marijuana.
Soon after this remark was made, residents in and outside the law enforcement community harshly criticized the dog trainer. The K9 trainer has since admitted he misspoke.
Thankfully, many police officers say they will gladly take these older K9s into their homes. The hope now is that all of these K9s will be able to enjoy their golden years with their handlers.
The Future Of Pot Determines K9 Training
While it’s unlikely the federal government will legalize recreational pot anytime soon, the trend is definitely in weed’s favor. As of early 2019, recreational marijuana has been legalized in ten US states and in all Canadian provinces. With the growing prevalence of legal weed, older K9s taught to detect marijuana will become more of a liability to the forces they serve. It’s likely these new marijuana laws will dramatically change the way breeders train the K9s of the future.
Image credit: https://allaboutshepherds.com/bibb-county-k9-bodie/