from the hysteria-on-top-of-hysteria dept
As marijuana is slowly, but steadily, being legalized, complications have arisen. First, the federal government still considers it illegal, although it has chosen to take a mostly-hands off approach to state-level legalization. Second, law enforcement agencies are seeing a very lucrative field of drug enforcement being slowly closed off. This isn’t sitting well with agencies that rely heavily on pot busts to show their effectiveness and secure funding.
There’s something else being adversely affected: the employment of a few hundred law enforcement “officers.” Won’t someone think of the poor drug dogs forced out onto the streets/put to death as marijuana legalization cruelly takes their reason for existence away? That’s the breathless parade of horribles being offered by law enforcement officers in Illinois — another state looking to legalize weed.
Police agencies spend thousands of dollars and months of training to teach dogs how to sniff out and alert officers to the presence of marijuana, heroin, cocaine and other drugs. If pot use becomes legal, the dogs would likely either have to be retrained — which some handlers say is impossible or impractical — or retired.
“The biggest thing for law enforcement is, you’re going to have to replace all of your dogs,” said Macon County Sheriff Howard Buffett, whose private foundation paid $2.2 million in 2016 to support K-9 units in 33 counties across Illinois. “So to me, it’s a giant step forward for drug dealers, and it’s a giant step backwards for law enforcements and the residents of the community.”
When prohibition is rolled back, people are displaced. The 21st Amendment was a “giant step forward for distilleries” and presumably a “giant step backwards” for law enforcement, which suddenly had one less law to enforce. But it wasn’t much of a loss for residents. It was only a loss for a small sector of one arm of the government, which soon found itself in full health again as the government added drug after drug to the controlled substances list.
Then there’s the usual complaining about the loss of fines for drug possession, which conveniently ignore the uptick in tax revenue once marijuana becomes a legally sellable substance. And there’s the expected handwringing about the “gateway drug” — something that’s long been attributed to marijuana with almost zero evidence offered it leads to harder drug use. (It’s really a Venn diagram being misread by those seeking to keep the substance controlled: most hard drug users have used marijuana. But not all marijuana users use hard drugs. It’s the overlap that’s interpreted as a gateway, when it’s really nothing more than a reflection of marijuana’s widespread use and easy availability.)
But the parade of horribles doesn’t end until overwrought prohibition advocates are publicly mourning the premature deaths of drug-sniffing dogs.
Because many K-9s are trained not to be social so their work won’t be affected, Larner said a number of dogs would likely have to be euthanized.
Oh my. One might be tempted to join this man in his mourning until one realizes he’s really just mourning the loss of a revenue stream. The “Larner” in this quote is Chad Larner, who runs a K-9 training academy. If Larner says they can’t be retrained, maybe he’s correct. Or maybe he’s just not interested in making money retraining drug dogs to be useful members of non-law enforcement society. Whatever the case actually is, this isn’t an unbiased statement. And it’s a ridiculous scenario to present: that drug legalization will be directly responsible for the deaths of police drug dogs.
It’s even more ridiculous because it’s rebutted by actual law enforcement officials. The article quotes two law enforcement officials who say the most likely outcome is dogs will go on to live private lives with their handlers, much as they do now when they’re retired.
What is more likely to change is the dogs’ position as instant generators of probable cause. The Pantograph article notes a drug sniff that led to the search of a vehicle is being challenged in court.
Last year, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a man arrested in 2015 after officers searched his vehicle and found a meth pipe with white residue. The search took place after officers were alerted by a K-9, and prosecutors used the evidence to convict the man of two counts of drug possession.
Like all narcotic-trained K-9s, the dog could detect marijuana, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and methamphetamine, but could not communicate which of the substances it smelled. Because it wasn’t known whether the dog alerted the officers to the presence of legal cannabis, the court ruled the evidence should not have been admitted; the man’s conviction was overturned.
That’s going to take a lot longer to sort out. Drug dogs can only alert. (Or respond to handler cues.) They can’t speak. To keep the system free of unwarranted searches, drug dog trainers are going to need to start specializing. Dogs that won’t alert to marijuana odors will be needed in states where marijuana is legal or the questions dogs can’t answer are going to result in more overturned convictions.