Washington State Police Officers Training Dogs to Ignore Marijuana

As a small number of states begin legalizing marijuana possession, police department have had to take creative measures to adjust their drug enforcement tactics.

One interesting change in Washington state, for example, is that police officers are now training drug-sniffing dogs to ignore marijuana, according to a report from Fox News.

Sources say Washington passed a law a few months ago that legalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The state joined Colorado as pioneers in the decriminalization movement, which has gained momentum due to the high costs of enforcing marijuana laws.

The law, according to sources, made it legal to possess small amounts for personal use, but it does still punish people possessing marijuana with the “intent to sell.”

This distinction may cause enforcement troubles for police departments, but one unexpected concern is the impact on drug-sniffing dogs, which have been trained for years to detect marijuana.

So several police departments in Washington, including the Seattle Police Department and the Washington State Patrol, have responded by altering the training regimens for their dogs.

According to Alison Holcomb, a drug policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union, “it makes most sense not to train dogs to alert to marijuana as that would likely lead to unwarranted investigatory detentions of people who are not breaking any law.”

In addition, a memo from a group of Washington prosecutors advised law-enforcement agencies that police dogs no longer needed to be able to discover marijuana on criminal suspects, although no outfit has explicitly prohibited agencies from continuing to train dogs in this manner.

The trick, of course, is how to desensitize the dogs. Sources say “rewards and constant training” will eventually change police dogs’ habits, but this could take time.

Interestingly, under the terms of the new law, even if the dogs do detect marijuana, and it appears to be possessed in order to sell, police officers will no longer be able to get search warrants solely on the basis of a dog’s nose.

In years past, a dog’s efforts could provide sufficient probable cause to justify a search warrant. Now, however, Washington police officers will have to offer additional evidence to obtain a judge’s permission to conduct a search.

Sources note that other information that could lead to a warrant includes eyewitness reports, bizarre behavior, or the presence of drug paraphernalia. Such events could help corroborate a dog’s suspicions, according to sources.

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