Legal Weed Baffles Drug-Sniffing Dogs

Legal Weed Baffles Drug-Sniffing Dogs
Marijuana, Dog via Shutterstock

Here’s a side-effect of marijuana legalization I hadn’t thought of: What do you do with the drug-sniffing dogs?

This turns out to be a serious question: Because the bark of a trained canine suggests the presence of an illegal drug, it can be used to justify searches and acquire warrants. But when that drug stops being illegal, that alert could lose its reliability–and its legal status.

The Associated Press reports that Washington–which joined Colorado in legalizing recreational marijuana use last November–is changing its standards for training dogs to ignore the whiff of weed.

Police say that having a K-9 unit that doesn’t alert to pot will lessen challenges to obtaining search warrants because the dog won’t be pointing out possible legal amounts of the drug. Traditionally, dogs are trained to alert on the smell of marijuana, heroin, crack cocaine, methamphetamine and cocaine. They can’t tell which one it is or how much of each there is.

You can see Dusty, the first pot-ignoring police dog of Bremerton, in this video by the local Fox News affiliate.

But what about the old dogs with outmoded skills? Contrary to the cliché, some departments are trying to teach their old dogs new tricks.

[Fred Helfers of the Pacific Northwest Detection Dog Association] is helping departments who want to go through the “extinction” training, which he said is a common method to change what substances dogs alert to. It takes about an initial 30 days plus every day reinforcements to modify the dog’s behavior.

Helfers and others point out that even in legal-weed Washington, there are still marijuana crimes–from growing to selling to possessing over an ounce–and recommend dogs continue to sniff it out.

Illustration: Kelly Rakowski/Co.Exist