For cops looking to find drugs they can’t see, super-smelling dogs trained to detect narcotics are often the second group of officers on the scene, alerting the boys in blue to possible narcotics and giving them probable cause to search a vehicle, school locker, or travel luggage. But with cannabis legal in some form or fashion in over half the country, and dogs unable to distinguish between the drugs they’re sniffing, police are having a hard time taking cues from their pet partners.
A Colorado Court of Appeals ruling earlier this month dismissed a 2015 search and arrest in Moffat County, CO where a drug-sniffing dog alerted local cops of methamphetamine and paraphernalia. Because the cops couldn’t know if the dog was smelling illegal meth or legal weed, the Court of Appeals threw out the case and set a new precedent for valid searches in states with legal weed.
The ruling has left police departments around Colorado and other legal weed states posed with an immediate dilemma; find new dogs that don’t smell weed, retrain existing canine cops to forget how to smell weed, or risk having all dog initiated searches thrown out in court. But for one Colorado County, a little foresight in the legal weed world is already paying dividends by way of some properly trained pooches.
According to The Greeley and Weld County Tribune, all five of the drug-sniffing dogs working for the Weld County Sheriff’s office were specifically omitted from the cannabis day at smell school. Instead, the dogs are trained to sniff only for drugs that are actually illegal in Colorado.
"We could see that decision coming for a long time," Greeley, CO Police Chief Jerry Garner, said of the Court of Appeals ruling. "It won't impact us at all."
The county’s police departments have already retired their dogs that were trained to detect reefer, but for the past few years local cops had actively been training the older dogs not to react to the smell of marijuana. For local law enforcement, the shift was no-brainer. Weld County Sheriff’s Captain Roger Ainsworth said that officials had been expecting the move for years, something he says other municipalities should have realized much earlier.
"That tells me people haven't been planning for the inevitable," Ainsworth said. "For the past three or four years, we haven't even trained with marijuana with our dogs."
So while most Rocky Mountain drivers can live a little more comfortably knowing that most of the state’s drug dogs could be ruled inadmissible in court, the canines of Weld County are still doing the job they were trained for - and that doesn’t include stopping stoners for driving with an eighth in the glove box.