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Now That Pot Will Be Legal Here, a Surprise Forced Retirement

Drug-sniffing K9 units in Virginia are being 'put out to pasture earlier than planned'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 29, 2021 8:30 AM CDT

(Newser) – Asking dogs to follow their noses won't work anymore in states that have legalized marijuana. As Virginia prepares to legalize adult possession of up to an ounce of marijuana on July 1, drug-sniffing police dogs from around the state are being forced into early retirement, following a trend in other states where legalization has led to K9s being put out to pasture earlier than planned, per the AP. In Virginia, the rush to take marijuana-detecting dogs out of service began even before lawmakers voted last month to accelerate the timetable for legalization. A separate law that went into effect in March prohibits police from stopping or searching anyone based solely on the odor of marijuana. The Virginia State Police are retiring 13 K9s, while many smaller police departments and sheriff's offices are retiring one or two dogs. Most are in the process of purchasing and training new dogs to detect only illicit drugs, including cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines.

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Some departments are unable to afford up to $15,000 to buy and train a new dog, so they are disbanding their K9 units altogether. The dogs trained on multiple drugs alert in the same way for all of them, so it's impossible to tell whether they're indicating the presence of marijuana or an illicit drug. The dogs also can't distinguish between a small, legal amount of marijuana or a larger, still-illegal amount of the drug. For police, that means they can no longer be used to establish probable cause for a search. A 2017 ruling from the Colorado Court of Appeals solidified concerns that using marijuana-trained dogs in places where the drug is legal may not withstand legal challenges. Other states that legalized marijuana earlier have had to make similar adjustments. "The trend is everywhere," said Don Slavik, executive director of the United States Police Canine Association.

(Read more police dogs stories.)

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