Fewer K-9s are Being Trained to Sniff Out Marijuana Due to Legalization

MODESTO -- Recreational marijuana has been allowed in California for almost a year and now one of the best ways for police to detect the drug is also changing.

Pot legalization could soon make K-9s unemployed.

"He detects both controlled substances and then also does suspect apprehension," said Los Banos Police Officer Todd Carter about K-9 Maverick.

But one of those controlled substances Maverick seeks out is marijuana, a drug more and more police departments are not eager to find.

"It’s not something that our department is actively pursuing," Carter told FOX40.

At Top Dog Police K-9 Training and Consulting in Modesto owner Ron Cloward told FOX40 while bags of cocaine and other drugs are still hidden in the drug-sniffing training course, for the last few years sample bags of marijuana have remained in a jar. Cloward said out of the 20 or so agencies he trains for very few want pot-sniffing K-9s.

"Some of your DAs will not and judges don’t want to use those dogs because of the marijuana," Cloward said.

Cloward explained officers cannot tell what a K-9 has detected when searching for narcotics. Therefore, cases can be thrown out in court if a police dog possibly detected legal cannabis while his handler was really searching for an illegal narcotic.

"It’s so easy to add an odor," Cloward said. "It’s a lot more difficult to try and take an odor away from a dog."

Cloward said even police departments in Texas, where marijuana is still illegal, don’t want K-9s to smell for the drug.

"Had one just recently. They just said, you know, 'We’re having problems with a certain district attorney’s office and so we don’t want to put marijuana on,'" Cloward said.

However, K-9 Maverick still has a job. His partner said pot-sniffing K-9s have other uses. Even in California, marijuana is still illegal in prisons and schools.

"High school and middle school kids can’t be possessing marijuana at schools," Officer Carter said. "So he gets a lot of work doing that, detecting marijuana on campuses and things like that."

Not only can the dogs detect narcotics but they can also assist officers in the field.  So departments are keeping K-9s, like Maverick, to take down suspects.

"Everybody that I’ve talked to throughout California, nobody has retired a dog early because of marijuana," Cloward said.

But Cloward said in other states, like Oregon, they project mass retirements of pot-sniffing K-9s.

Many of the agencies Cloward trains K-9s for are local police departments. But he says federal agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration, are still training dogs to sniff for marijuana, especially along the border.