The legalization of marijuana in Colorado has had some successes and some unintentional consequences . Sure, tax revenues have risen each year since voters back the bill to legalize the substance and business has bloomed. But one fallout from the change in legal status was completely overlooked, what happens to all the drug sniffing dogs?
It turns out that no one really ponder the issue when the program to legalize marijuana hit the scene in 2014. And now police forces across the state are dealing with an odd fallout, their drug sniffing dogs are no longer able to do their jobs. The issue stems from the inability to retrain drug sniffing dogs to not recognize the smell of marijuana, after years of training to pick up and detect the scent.
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To understand the extent of the issue one must understand how drug sniffing dogs are trained. The dogs who are trained to identify the scent of marijuana, don’t actually want to eat drugs nor are the addicted to the scent of the drug they are trained to find. They are actually looking for their favorite toy, which is usually a white towel. When a dog is being trained to sniff out drugs, they are rewarded with a tug-of-war with their favorite toy, the white towel. As puppies they are first introduced to the white towel as a play toy, with no scent of drugs on the toy. As the dog progresses in its training, the handlers will add the scent of marijuana to the towel and soon the dogs will associate the smell of marijuana with their favorite toy. The next step is to start hiding the white towel is various places, such as suitcases and hidden locations. When the dog finds the towel they are rewarded with a game of tug-and-war.
Now that marijuana is legal in Colorado and a few other states, law enforcement cannot use the dogs to sniff out other drugs, due to the fact they may identify marijuana in the search which is legal. A 2015 court ruling in Colorado underscored that drug-sniffing dogs may constitute an infringement of right to privacy, and as such, any evidence gained by such a “search” – as the panel of judges in the case considered such inspection – would be inadmissible in court. “Dogs that can sniff for marijuana get called into question more in court and can make things more difficult,” Officer Garrett Duncan explained.
Now, law enforcement agencies across the state must decide what to do with all their drug sniffing dogs. They have found that it is next to impossible to retrain the dogs, due to the fact that the dogs will always identify the scent of marijuana with their favorite toy. This behavior would take years of negative reinforcement training to break their habits and handlers don’t believe it would be ethical to re educate the dogs. So, the new plan is to train a new generation of drug sniffing dogs, who will not be trained to sniff out marijuana, but instead they will be trained to smell out drugs such as meth and heroin. All the older drug sniffing dogs will be slowly pushed into retirement, where they will be placed with loving families in forever homes.