The newest drug-sniffing dog on the police force in one US city is not trained to point out the presence of marijuana. Other police departments in the area are retraining their dogs to ignore pot as well — part of the new reality after voters in Washington State legalized marijuana use last year.
“We wanted to train our dog on what was truly illegal substances, that would be heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine,” said officer Duke Roessel, who handles a 19-month-old black Labrador named Dusty in the city of Bremerton, near Seattle.
Washington and Colorado are the first US states to legalize marijuana for recreational use, and the rest of the country is watching — while the federal government continues to see marijuana use as illegal.
Police departments in Seattle and other cities, as well as the Washington State Patrol, have either put the dogs through pot desensitization training or plan not to train them for marijuana detection.
The new law decriminalized possession of up to 28g of the drug for individuals over 21 years old. It also barred the distribution and growth of marijuana outside the state-approved system.
Traditionally, police dogs are trained to alert on the smell of marijuana, heroin, crack cocaine, methamphetamine and cocaine.
The dogs cannot tell which one it is or how much of each there is.
In January, the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission removed detecting marijuana from its canine team certification standards.
However, some police departments are not making any changes.
The legalization law “just made one ounce not a crime for adults. That means that any amount over an ounce is still illegal, growing marijuana is still illegal, selling marijuana is still illegal, passing a joint to somebody is still illegal,” medical marijuana advocate and attorney Douglas Hiatt said.
Dog trainer Fred Helfers of the Pacific Northwest Detection Dog Association is helping departments who want to go through the “extinction” training, which he said is a common method to change what substances dogs alert to.
It takes about an initial 30 days plus everyday reinforcements to modify the dog’s behavior.