Unleashed: Pot Legalization Sparks Debate About Future of K9 Units

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A police dog on the job. Photo by Samantha Forsberg via Flickr

As more states legalize pot, police departments across the country are finding it difficult to justify maintaining expensive K9 units that use specially-trained dogs to sniff out drugs, reports 1010WCSI.com. There are about 50,000 K9’s currently working in departments nationwide, and each dog costs approximately $8,000 plus about $15,000 in training costs.

New York and New Jersey legalized recreational marijuana earlier this year, joining California, Colorado, Maine, Oregon and more. In New York, the law enforcement agency has 98 police dogs, 39 of which are trained in detecting marijuana. An NYPD spokesperson insisted that the majority of the department’s police dogs and their tasks “are not impacted by the change in the law.”

However, states like New Jersey and Colorado stopped training K9’s to detect marijuana. Colorado, which was among the first states to legalize recreational pot, has been a testing ground for how police dogs would be handled. For officers, probable cause has become much more important. A hint of marijuana can trigger the same response as any quantity of methamphetamine to the dogs.

As officers in Colorado have had to change their mindset and adopt new practices according to the legalization, other states have begun to do so as well. The use of K9’s has been a conflicting one even in states where marijuana is illegal. The Orlando Sun Sentinel released an investigative project “The Hunted,” which examined 17 months of K9 bites in the Broward County Sheriff’s Department, one of Florida’s largest police agencies, and found that 84 percent  of people who were bitten were Black.

This summary was prepared by TCR reporting intern Anna Wilder.

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