As Virginia prepares to legalize adult possession of up to an ounce of marijuana on July 1, drug-sniffing dogs working in departments around that state are being forced into early retirement. The news follows a trend in other states where legalization has led to dogs cut loose from their jobs earlier than originally planned.
Connecticut K-9 Units
In Monroe, Connecticut, they retired a pot-sniffing German shepherd named Murphy in September (2022). The reason is that the department can’t untrain him and they don’t want any unwarranted “hits” taking place should marijuana be detected. To a certain extent, this comes as a blow to law enforcement because Police K-9 training costs can run between $12,000 and $15,000 per animal — and that doesn’t include the price of the dog. To be fair, they’re often rescue pups, but training is still pricey even if the dog wasn’t.
Connecticut Drug Laws
The department has operated two K-9 units for about a decade. But with the legalization of pot in Connecticut last year, law enforcement had to change tactics and start using dogs only in searches that included a warrant. According to Police Chief Keith White, the need for a second dog was “greatly reduced because our dog would hit on marijuana.”
Police there will continue to request K-9 units from neighboring towns to assist if their remaining Belgian Malinois, Riggs, is off-duty. “There’s no sense continuing to spend money when we have other assets available to us in the area that could perform the same tasks,” White added.
Murphy and Riggs were trained to detect cannabis but the new laws have reduced the number of cases their talents could be used for. White stated that before 2019, dogs were typically deployed more than twice as often as in 2022.
Virginia K-9 Units
In Virginia, the move to take marijuana-detecting dogs out of the equation began before lawmakers even had a chance to vote to speed up the timetable for legalization. But the handwriting was on the walls with a separate law that went into effect in March 2022 that prohibited cops from stopping or searching anyone based solely on the smell of pot.
Sgt. Scott Amos, the canine training coordinator for Virginia State Police, noted that with the July legalization date coming this year, law enforcement is busy training new k-9s for substances like MDMA (aka ecstasy), coke, heroin, and methamphetamines. In the meantime, they’re also preparing 13 dogs for early retirement that will be adopted by their handlers.
Cumberland County Sheriff Darrell Hodges acknowledged that his office recently had to retire its drug-detecting K-9, Mambo, too. “You work with them day in and day out, and they become part of you, and to just take it away is kind of tough,” he admitted. Additionally, Hodges supplied the info that Mambo was being adopted by his handler as well. “The dog is actually living a wonderful life,” he shared. “He has his own bedroom in a house and is getting spoiled rotten.”