For decades, police departments throughout the United States have been training canines to sniff out various drugs. Commonly referred to as “drug dogs,” these canines have been taught to sniff out a variety of substances like cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and cannabis.
In 2015, nearly half of the United States have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, while four states and Washington D.C. have legalized it for recreational use and retail sale. What does this mean for the drug dogs trained to sniff out marijuana?
Once the new legislation is enacted in Oregon this July, adults 21 years and older will be able to legally possess a specified amount of marijuana within their home and on their person. Therefore, in places like Springfield, Oregon, police dog trainers, like Sgt. Rich Chaboneau, have decided not to continue training the four-scent method. The four-scent method is used when dogs are trained to search for marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
Danner, a beautiful 2 year old black Labrador Retriever was one of the first dogs trained using the three-scent method, which is when marijuana is not included. Although she can sniff out heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, she was one of the first police dogs in Oregon that was not trained to search for cannabis.
Sgt. Chaboneau presented reasoning behind the new training practices. When a police dog goes through four-scent drug training, they are taught to seek out all drugs, but the signals that the dogs use to alert their handlers are the same regardless of the type of drug. This could present legal troubles surrounding searches conducted because a drug dog alerts that there drugs when it turns out that all the dog smelled was marijuana. This would only apply if the search is completed in a state, like Oregon, where the plant has been legalized.
This could cause a potential problem for local District Attorney offices, as well, when prosecuting individuals for drug charges if the drug dog alerts for a legal amount of marijuana. Until legalization goes into effect this July, Oregon DA offices have instructed all police departments to continue business as usual when dealing with marijuana cases.
Regardless of these changes in the dog training policies, larger city police departments within the state of Oregon, like the Portland Police Bureau and Multnomah County Sheriff’s, have declared that they do not plan to eradicate the four-scent method training because they will still need cannabis sniffing canines to assist with larger scale marijuana trafficking busts.
The dogs that have been trained to search for marijuana in areas that have now legalized the plant will either be transferred to locations in which marijuana possession is still prosecuted or they will be retired and adopted to a good home.