The impact of marijuana legislation on the workplace and on children has been widely debated, but few have recognized the issues that arise with the police canine community. In fact, some canines that have been regarded as valuable police force members are now forced to retire early, largely because marijuana has gone from an illegal drug to a legal possession in 10 states.
The state of Colorado, in particular, has found one of its long-time, respected canines facing retirement. A Golden Retriever named Tulo will be retiring in 2019, ending his eight-year employment with the Rifle, Colorado Police Force. Tulo has helped with more than 170 arrests, but his experience in seeking out marijuana will interfere with his reliability in finding other narcotics, making his early retirement a necessity.
The training methods employed for these K9s simply reinforces the necessity to alert when a narcotic is scented. Considering the fact that marijuana, meth, and other narcotics are all part of the training in equal measure, the dogs can no longer be a reliable resource for potential illegal activity.
The current move to legalize marijuana has states requiring police dogs that are trained without marijuana exposure, and while not all states have legalized recreational use, some states are moving forward with the change in training protocol for new canines in recognition of potential changes in the future.
A case in Colorado in 2017 most accurately reflects the necessity for these changes. The case involved a search of a vehicle and the seizure of paraphernalia with methamphetamine residue. The drug dog used to validate the search had training that involved marijuana, which is legal in Colorado.
Despite the fact that marijuana was not found in the truck, the conviction was overturned due to concerns about the dog’s reaction and its legitimacy. This specific case is headed to the Colorado Supreme Court, but the time and resources needed to fight the appeals in cases like this mean the retirement of dogs trained to alert on marijuana is the best option.
Meanwhile, some states continue to utilize the tried and true methods, despite concerns over legitimacy. Kansas, which shares a border with Colorado, continues to require dogs have training in marijuana detection. This move is made as officials monitor the procedures used in other states and watch the trend of marijuana-friendly legislation that has been growing in recent years.
These states may face issues, however, if the federal statutes change. In fact, some marijuana advocates feel that change could occur as early as 2019, rendering the expensive training of new drug dogs in various states obsolete much sooner than expected.