Illinois Police Threaten to Euthanize Over 200 Drug-Sniffing Dogs If Weed Is Legalized
“At this point, they’re trained on five different odors. Once they’re programmed with that, you can’t just deprogram them.”
Published on May 8, 2018

Lawmakers and residents alike have made significant steps over the past two years in an effort to turn Illinois into the Midwest's first legal weed state. But while experts have predicted that Illinois could welcome adult-use legalization before the end of 2018, local police officers are still trying their best to prevent cannabis reform, even going as far as to threaten the lives of over 200 drug-sniffing dogs.

According to a report from the Pantagraph, Illinois cops have said that if marijuana becomes legal they will have few other options than to euthanize K9 cops trained to detect the smell of ganja.

Since drug dogs are taught from a young age to detect cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and MDMA, as well as weed, cannabis legalization would complicate how they function on the force. For example, in Colorado, a court ruled last year that drug alerts from police dogs are not probable cause to search vehicles, as there's now reasonable doubt that the drug-sniffing pups could have detected marijuana and not one of the other, still illicit, narcotics.

"At this point, they're trained on five different odors. Once they're programmed with that, you can't just deprogram them," Normal, Illinois Police Department Assistant Chief Steve Petrilli, who was a K-9 handler for eight years, told the Pantagraph. "I think the implications of that would be huge."

Continuing in that line of thinking, Chad Larner, training director at the K-9 Training Academy in Macon County, Illinois, said that "a number of dogs would likely have to be euthanized." In total, Illinois is currently home to 275 drug-sniffing dogs.

However, while Illinois is certainly poised to be one of the first Midwestern states to welcome legal weed, the Prairie State is not the first to enact cannabis reform and subsequently deal with shifts in the job description of K9 cops.

Related: Photos of Animals Admiring the Majesty of Marijuana

In Colorado and Oregon, police departments have been retiring older drug-sniffing dogs as domestic pets for local officers, re-assigning police pooches to sniff out counterfeit money and explosives, and actively training dogs to reverse their cannabis training. As far as we can tell, no police department in a legal weed state has euthanized healthy dogs because they are trained to detect marijuana.

"That tells me people haven't been planning for the inevitable," said Captain Roger Ainsworth, who leads the K9 team at the Weld County, Colorado Sheriff Department. "For the past three or four years, we haven't even trained with marijuana with our dogs," he told the Greeley and Weld County Tribune about what he sees as no-brainer legalization preparations.

On the East Coast, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has been taking notes from Colorado cops, and has already indicated that Garden State drug dogs will soon undergo training to avoid marijuana, even as Governor Phil Murphy moves slowly in his promise to bring legal weed to the state.

Even with high prices and training difficulties associated with teaching drug dogs to ignore weed, cannabis advocates have looked at options in other legalized states and met Illinois cops' claims with a heavy dose of skepticism, to say the least.

"The idea that legalizing for adults to have an ounce on them will equal ... all these dogs being euthanized, that seems kind of ridiculous and hyperbolic," Dan Linn, executive director of NORML Illinois, told the Pantagraph. He even described the death discussion as a "red herring."

That said, the assistant police chief in Normal, Illinois, and a Public Affairs Officer in Bloomington, Illinois both stated that local K-9 cops should be retired into domestic homes and not be killed if weed is legalized. For now, the euthanasia quote from the training director at Macon County's K-9 Training Academy appears to be the exception to the rule, or even a misguided and inaccurate claim. Let's hope so for our canna-K9 friends.

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Zach Harris
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
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