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Ever wonder what happens to drug sniffing K9s once marijuana is legalized? Well, it turns out that a man’s best friend likely cannot be retrained to not seek out marijuana odor. K9s are trained to sniff for four distinct odors: Marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and meth. With the legalization of cannabis, dogs are incapable of distinguishing between what scent has aroused their nostrils, and have no way of communicating to officers what exactly it is they smell. It doesn't matter what marijuana strain it is, K9s can smell them all.
Before the legalization of marijuana, an alert from a drug-sniffing K9 was enough to justify probable cause. Now, with marijuana being legalized, experts fear that the use of four-odor dogs could undermine cases in court. An alert from a dog trained to sniff for marijuana no longer justifies probable cause because an officer does not have the right to search your vehicle without permission if the only incriminating evidence is a legal substance.
So, what happens to the dogs? Many of the dogs serve more than one purpose. Arizona’s Department of Public Safety says they had a total of 18 drug-sniffing dogs, which has since been reduced down to ten. Canines that remain on the force are currently serving non-drug sniffing patrol duties, while the eight that are no longer employed have retired from their responsibilities and have been adopted by families as pets.
Phoenix police state that they still intend to use the dogs trained to sniff out marijuana to help detect larger, illegal quantities of drugs. The department is also equipped with nine dogs that are trained to recognize every odor except for marijuana. Unfortunately, experts suggest that the four-odor dogs are unlikely able to be retrained.
However, K9 Defense believes that it is completely possible for drug-sniffing K9s to be retrained to not alert over the scent of marijuana. By removing positive reinforcement when the dog correctly detects weeds, the dog will lose the incentive and instead will focus on finding one of the three other odors.