Being a drug-sniffing dog these days is getting a little confusing, with the recent wave of easing marijuana laws. It has also created a new challenge for police in Washington State: training their dogs to ignore that very distinct scent of weed.
Since it's no longer a crime for Washington residents 21 and older to carry up to an ounce of marijuana, it does little good to have dogs alerting authorities of its presence. But the retraining has more important implications than simply being an inconvenient waste of time. It will make it impossible to obtain search warrants.
According to a memo from the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, police officers can no longer rely exclusively on their dog's when determining probable cause for a search warrant. If a warrant request is based even partially on a dog’s alert, they will have to tell the judge if the dog was trained prior to the passing of Initiative 502 and give additional evidence.
"Moving forward, it makes most sense not to train dogs to alert to marijuana as that would likely lead to unwarranted investigatory detentions of people who are not breaking any law," said Alison Holcomb, drug policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Law enforcement agencies are not prohibited from training their dogs to alert them of marijuana and some police departments will be continuing as they did before the bill was passed.
"Canines that are trained to alert to marijuana provide valuable information in support of probable cause for a search warrant," said Pam Loginsky, who wrote the memo from the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.