As states across the US change their policy on cannabis, the use of K9 units to sniff out drugs becomes more complicated. Many dogs are trained to hunt for hard narcotics like cocaine, heroin, and less serious drugs like cannabis, but they aren’t trained to make distinctions between them. Nor are they able to distinguish legal amounts of cannabis versus illegal amounts.
From entertainment venues to public transit and airports, drug-sniffing dogs have sent plenty of pulses pounding. So, naturally, devising ways to throw sniffer dogs off the trail became something of a necessity for cannabis users who took their stash into public. And the internet is still awash with guides, some of them quite recent, on how to avoid drug-sniffing dogs when you’re carrying cannabis. But if a little-noticed trend within police K9 units continues, people in possession of cannabis might never have to worry about a sniffer dog busting them again.
Legal Cannabis Posing Problems For Drug-Sniffing Dogs
Dogs that sniff for drugs have come under criticism ever since they became popularized in the United States in the late 1960s. Many of the criticisms make sense. Police have to follow certain policies and procedures when conducting searches in order to protect our Constitutional and civil rights.
But dogs can’t read the Bill of Rights or know when they’re going against police protocol. They just do their thing: smell stuff and bark. And that means that detection dogs give police the potential to conduct searches without probable cause.
From another angle, a major expose from the Chicago Tribune in 2011 claimed that drug-sniffing dogs can pick up on and follow the biases and prejudices of their handlers. Considering the racially biased history of drug enforcement in the U.S., that’s a huge problem. Additionally, drug dogs are often just plain wrong. Residual odors, especially ones that linger, can trigger false alerts, implicating those nearby well after the illegal material was removed. Finally, hardly any states have any kind of regulation or mandatory training or certification standards for drug-sniffing dogs.
All in all, drug dogs just aren’t very reliable, and judges have thrown out many cases due to inadmissible evidence gathered after a detection alert. As recently as this past July, a Colorado court overruled Kevin McKnight’s 2015 drug conviction after a panel of judges ruled that a sniffer dog’s alert is not enough cause to search a vehicle without consent.
In other words, since Colorado is weed-legal, a dog trained to sniff weed would infringe upon one’s right to privacy. And the judges went even further. They ruled that the sniff itself should now be considered a “search.” And that means that any evidence police gathered during or as a result of that “search,” that sniff, would be thrown out of court.
The judges’ decision has far-reaching effects. Because it means that now any dog that police have trained to detect marijuana would be conducting an illegal search, just by sniffing around. If only dogs could tell police what they’re smelling. But they can’t inform the police as to whether the smell is heroin or meth or just weed. And that makes their sniffing “searches” illegal.
No More Cannabis Training For Drug-Sniffing Dogs
The city of Rifle’s police department has introduced two new drug-sniffing dogs that won’t respond when smelling marijuana, reports the Post Independent. The two puppies, known as Jax and Makai, will be trained for Rifle’s K-9 unit in order to replace current police dogs that are conditioned to sniff out pot. The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in July that dogs trained to search for marijuana won’t have legal probable cause when alerting to drugs in general.
The new 420-friendly pups were introduced thanks to fundraising by local 12-year-old Carter Fulk, who hopes to be a cop in the future.
So pretty soon, if you’re traveling with some weed and you see a sniffer dog, you might be able to relax a little. Isn’t the end of prohibition nice?