Police K-9s have helped sniff out many a marijuana offender, but as local governments relax their marijuana laws, some of these drug-sniffing dogs are being forced into early retirement.
The New York Times reports that police departments across the United States are having to retire their drug-sniffing dogs and seek newer K-9s with no marijuana-sniffing experience. Not only is the skill becoming obsolete in parts of the country, it is now seen as a liability.
“A dog can’t tell you, ‘Hey, I smell marijuana’ or ‘I smell meth.’ They have the same behavior for any drug that they’ve been trained on,” says Tommy Klein, police chief in Rifle, Colorado.
Tulo, a yellow Labrador retriever who has helped with more than 170 arrests in his eight years with the Rifle police department, will retire in January. “If Tulo were to alert on a car, we no longer have probable cause for a search based on his alert alone,” said Klein.
Colorado police departments like Rifle’s are following a 2017 ruling by a state appeals court that said a marijuana-trained drug-sniffing dog’s signal was “no longer a reliable indicator of illegal activity,” the NYT reported.
The dog from that ruling, Kilo, alerted Moffat County officers to the presence of contraband on a man’s truck. A search turned up a pipe with “what appeared to be methamphetamine residue.”
However, based on the judges’ ruling, the officers had no legal grounds to search the man’s vehicle because Kilo was trained to detect marijuana, among other drugs.
The state Supreme Court will review the decision and plans to hear arguments in January, but some police departments are taking it as a sign that times are changing.
“Almost every state is trying to get ahead of this,” says David Ferland, executive director of the United States Police Canine Association. “Nearly every one is having some newly trained teams not introduce marijuana odors to their dogs.”
Even in places like Texas, where marijuana is still criminalized, law enforcement are planning ahead.
“I just did a dog for a department in Texas that asked me not to put marijuana on her. They had the feeling there could be some changes coming there, and they wanted to plan ahead,” said Ron Cloward, a K-9 trainer based in Modesto, California.
Younger dogs, like Rudy in Arvada, Colorado, will be trained to detect only cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and methamphetamine. Makai and Jax will replace Tulo in Rifle, Colorado. They, too, will have no marijuana training.