Illinois law enforcement agencies are worried about what to do with their trained drug-sniffing dogs if the state votes to legalize marijuana, and worries they might have to euthanize hundreds of the highly-trained canines.
As the state legislature considers allowing a marijuana decriminalization measure to appear on the November ballot, one of the biggest concern for law enforcement is what to do with dogs that are trained to sniff out marijuana like they track cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and other drugs.
“The biggest thing for law enforcement is, you’re going to have to replace all of your dogs,” Macon County Sheriff Howard Buffett told Bloomington, Ill., newspaper The Pantagraph. “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.”
Across the state, police departments maintain around 275 dogs to sniff out illegal drugs, and retraining the animals would be costly, and even then the dogs might not be effective.
It would be impossible for dogs to differentiate between pot and, say, meth, which could lead to improper searches at vehicle stops.
“At this point, they’re trained on five different odors,” Steve Petrilli, assistance chief for the Normal Police Department, said. “Once they’re programmed with that, you can’t just deprogram them. I think the implications of that would be huge.”
The concerns are not without merit. A court in Colorado, the first state to decriminalize marijuana, reversed a conviction in 2017 of a man who was arrested for having a meth pipe with white residue because police found the paraphernalia after a drug-sniffing dog alerted his handler to the presence of drugs. It was unclear, and impossible to determine, whether the dog was sniffing the meth pipe, or marijuana.
The dogs would “still have some versatility,” Petrilli said, but “their most common use is vehicle searches out on the street.” The last dog Petrillie’s department trained cost $20,000.
The dogs would be euthanized, probably, only if they could not be retired for adoption, which has happened in other states that have changed law enforcement practices after cannabis decriminalization.
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