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Drug-sniffing dogs may pose challenge in states with legalized pot

by Take Two®

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Cpl. Frederick (No first name given) of the Wayne County Airport Police and his dog Spencer patrol at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport December 26, 2009 in Romulus, Michigan. Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Drug-sniffing dogs can play a key role in police departments looking to uncover illegal stashes, but for these dogs in Colorado and Washington, the job has become a lot trickier now that marijuana is legal.

In Colorado, for example, anyone over 21 can possess up to an ounce of marijuana and use it in the privacy of his or her home. They cannot openly use marijuana in the street. 

But how will dogs, trained to sniff out pot in the past, be retrained to not recognize the presence of marijuana?

"We're trying to adjust to our new law, but still we assist with federal agencies where marijuana is still illegal" said Sergeant Brian Cummings of the Colorado Springs Police Department. "There is a need for us to maintain dogs that detect the odor of marijuana."

Most of the new dogs coming to the police department are trained to only smell drugs that are currently illegal under Colorado state law.

"This is such a new law and we don't want to have any issues in the court later," said Cummings. 

But, that doesn't mean dogs that do smell marijuana are going anywhere.

"Each dog is selected and they build quite a bond with the handler," said Cummings. "They serve a purpose. They're law enforcement dogs, but there is that bond. I can't see us sending a dog away to get a dog that doesn't detect marijuana."

Additionally, police still need these dogs because possessing more than an ounce of marijuana is illegal in Colorado. If a dog smells marijuana, then an officer has a right to decide whether to conduct a search, Cummings said. They also use the dogs to assist federal agencies because marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

Web article by Nuran Alteir

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