Due to a change in the law on drugs, police canines’ noses have been rendered useless.
Drug-sniffing police canines from throughout Virginia are being forced to retire early as the state prepares to legalize adult possession of up to an ounce of cannabis on July 1.
This is similar to a trend in other American states where legalization has resulted in K-9s being retired earlier than expected.
The rush to remove cannabis-detecting canines from duty in Virginia began even before legislators agreed last month to speed up the legalization timeline.
A separate law, which took effect in March, prevents police from stopping or searching someone just because they smell like marijuana.
Many smaller police agencies and sheriff’s offices are retiring one or two K-9s, while the Virginia State Police are retiring 13 K-9s.
The majority are in the midst of buying and training new dogs to detect solely illegal narcotics such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines.
Some departments are disbanding their K-9 squads because they can’t afford to spend up to $15,000 (£10,000) to buy and train a new dog.
Because the canines were trained to detect a variety of narcotics, it’s impossible to know whether they’re alerting to the presence of cannabis or another illegal substance.
In addition, the dogs are unable to discern between a tiny, legal amount of cannabis and a bigger, nevertheless illegal amount.
For cops, this means they can’t use them to prove probable cause for a search.
“We won’t employ our canines trained in (cannabis) because it may be a defense an attorney would raise for a client, to say: ‘Which odour did the K-9 alert on — was it marijuana or was it an illicit drug?” said Bedford County Sheriff Mike Miller.
Sheriff Miller noted that using a dog that has been trained to identify all substances except cannabis can assist “guarantee he didn’t hit on marijuana, that he didn’t find heroin or whatever else.”
Sheriff Miller’s office has retired one dog and replaced it with a second dog that will only be used for tracking and apprehension purposes, not for narcotics detection.
His office also purchased a new canine that had not been trained to detect the fragrance of. (This is a brief piece.)