October 21, 2017, 9:05 am
As the saying goes, dogs are humans’ best friend. Unless, of course, you have weed on you… and that dog is a police K9 trained to sniff you out. From entertainment venues to public transit and airports, drug-sniffing dogs have sent plenty of pulses pounding.
So, naturally, devising ways to throw sniffer dogs off the trail became something of a necessity for cannabis users who took their stash into public. And the internet is still awash with guides, some of them quite recent, on how to avoid drug-sniffing dogs when you’re carrying cannabis.
But if a little-noticed trend within police K9 units continues, people in possession of cannabis might never have to worry about a sniffer dog busting them again.
A little-known trend is picking up pace as a result of the ever-expanding legalization and decriminalization of cannabis.
More and more, police are training drug-sniffing dogs to ignore marijuana. Instead, training is becoming more focused on the detection of hard drugs, like heroin, ecstasy and methamphetamine.
And it’s not just because prohibitionist cannabis laws are loosening and being overturned in municipalities and states across the country.
Rather, cannabis legalization is helping move the needle on an issue advocates of criminal justice reform have been putting pressure on for decades.
Because the simple fact is that police K9s aren’t always so accurate. And now that cannabis is legal, that inaccuracy, and the false convictions which can follow, are starting to come to light.
Dogs that sniff for drugs have come under criticism ever since they became popularized in the United States in the late 1960s. Many of the criticisms make sense. Police have to follow certain policies and procedures when conducting searches in order to protect our Constitutional and civil rights.
But dogs, it goes without saying, can’t read the Bill of Rights or know when they’re going against police protocol.
They just do their thing: smell stuff and bark. And that means that detection dogs give police the potential to conduct searches without probable cause.
From another angle, a major expose from the Chicago Tribune in 2011 claimed that drug-sniffing dogs can pick up on and follow the biases and prejudices of their handlers. Considering the racially biased history of drug enforcement in the U.S., that’s a huge problem.
Additionally, drug dogs are often just plain wrong.
Residual odors, especially ones that linger, can trigger false alerts, implicating those nearby well after the illegal material was removed.
Finally, hardly any states have any kind of regulation or mandatory training or certification standards for drug-sniffing dogs.
All in all, drug dogs just aren’t very reliable, and judges have thrown out many cases due to inadmissible evidence gathered after a detection alert.
Cannabis legalization has exacerbated those problems. As recently as this past July, a Colorado court overruled Kevin McKnight’s 2015 drug conviction after a panel of judges ruled that a sniffer dog’s alert is not enough cause to search a vehicle without consent.
“A dog sniff could result in an alert with respect to something for which, under Colorado law, a person has a legitimate expectation of privacy,” the three-judge panel wrote in the ruling.
In other words, since Colorado is weed-legal, a dog trained to sniff weed would infringe upon one’s right to privacy. And the judges went even further. They ruled that the sniff itself should now be considered a “search.”
And that means that any evidence police gathered during or as a result of that “search,” that sniff, would be thrown out of court.
The judges’ decision has far-reaching effects. Because it means that now any dog that police have trained to detect marijuana would be conducting an illegal search, just by sniffing around.
If only they could tell police what they’re smelling. But they can’t inform the police as to whether the smell is heroin or meth or just weed. And that makes their sniffing “searches” illegal.
In all of those places, police are starting to phase out marijuana training for their new K9s. Some of the older guards are heading into retirement. (If you live in these places, make sure to adopt these fine animals so they find good homes!)
Of course, this isn’t the end of drug-sniffing dogs at all.
The focus of their training is just going to change to harder drugs. Police dogs are still vital tools for finding missing people, detecting explosives and providing security.
So pretty soon, if you’re traveling with some weed and you see a sniffer dog, you might be able to relax a little. Isn’t the end of prohibition nice?