The legalization of marijuana has been a trending topic in the United States for decades now. 18 states have legalized marijuana since 2012 and, according to the PEW Research Center, 90% of Americans support the legalization of Marijuana. As the legislation surrounding cannabis relaxes, and the plant becomes more socially acceptable throughout society, there is a decreasing demand for weed-sniffing K-9s in police cars, airports, and large public events.
According to the United States Police Canine Association, “once you train a behavior in a dog, that never goes away”. In other words, once a police K9 is trained to sniff for marijuana, they will always retain this skill and it is something that cannot be untaught or retrained. So, as US states have exponentially legalized weed over the past few years, police stations have responded by either replacing their dogs or completely demobilizing their K9 units.
Weed laws vary from state to state. In some it is still fully illegal, in others, it is merely decriminalized, and in the most progressive it is legal both medically and recreationally. This is significant because individuals may be legally permitted to hold zero, just a few grams, or even up to several ounces of weed. For police and their K9s, this creates problems:
“The dogs also cannot 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”.
In a report released by the Associated Press, “some departments are unable to afford up to $15,000 to buy and train a new dog, so they are disbanding their K-9 units”. For example, and as of recent, the Virginia State police have retired 13 weed-sniffing K9s along with the Quincy Department in Massachusetts repurposing a couple of theirs for patrol work. This trend is spreading throughout the United States, but it is important to note that many police departments are “training new dogs to detect only illicit drugs, including cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines”.
Currently, almost all K9s that are trained to sniff for marijuana are also trained to sniff for other illegal narcotics. This is worth pointing out because the dogs cannot tell their police officers which drugs they may have found, but rather that they have found drugs in general. In these cases, “it’s impossible to tell whether they are indicating the presence of marijuana or an illicit drug“, which means that an officer no longer has probable cause to search an individual, their vehicle, or any of their luggage.
Police K9s being forced into early retirement is a new, but quickly growing trend. As the legalization of marijuana continues to slowly progress on a state level, the number of dogs forced into early retirement will keep gradually rising. However, if marijuana becomes federally legalized, someone might have to open a retirement home because there will be a huge spike in unemployed K9s that have nowhere to work!