Police: K-9s Compromised with Marijuana Legalization

By Rachel Aragon | raragon@nexstar.tv

Published 02/12 2016 10:54PM

Updated 02/12 2016 11:18PM

Vermont Police worry legalizing marijuana will not only compromise public safety, but also their most trusted companions.

Many police K-9s are trained to smell pot but if the state follows through with legalization those K-9s will likely be replaced.

There are more than 40 K-9 teams in the state. One key feature of having a police canine, it can alert officials to the odor of drugs long before they can smell it.

"Along with our visual indicators that we've seen already that's enough to have probable cause so we can get a search warrant," says Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel.

Dogs can alert police of the odor for an array of drugs, marijuana, crack cocaine, heroin or a combination of them, but if pot becomes legal, that becomes a problem.

"It's hard for the officer to be able to explain did his or her dog alert on the odor of marijuana or did they alert on heroin, and if its legal, you have an argument," says Chief Merkel.

He says about 75 percent of the their drug stops consist of more than one drug.

"With the heroin trafficking in our state, this is not the time to put another stumbling block for us on the street. Things are hard enough as it is."

The Vermont Police Academy trains all state and local K-9s. It's new policy is to not train dogs to recognize the drug smell in anticipation of  the legalization of marijuana.

But retraining the current drug-sniffing K-9s is not really an option.  

"You can't de-program the dog. Once a dog is trained on a spectrum of odors, you can't un-program them," says Chief Merkel.

He says that means municipalities will have to cough up thousands of dollars to replace their current dogs with those who do not recognize marijuana and if the budget is tight, it could mean relying solely on visual cues during a drug stop.

"We could look at a person's appearance, their mannerisms, the paraphernalia we see in the car, but what happens if they are not there?" says Chief Merkel

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