Future uncertain for marijuana sniffing K-9s

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CHAMPAIGN COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) — Cities and their leaders are still trying to figure out the particulars for when recreational marijuana becomes legal next year, but they’re not the only ones. It’s the same deal when it comes to police departments, particularly on K-9 officers.

Trainers aren’t teaching new K-9s to sniff for marijuana, but K-9s already on the force are trained to do it. So for them, it could mean early retirement. Some officials say a case law may be necessary to guide everyone on what to do.

Arco and Blus are two K-9s who went through extensive training to join the ranks of their handlers. They sniff for illegal drugs, including, right now, marijuana. But with the new law, it puts these pups’ job security in question.

“30 grams would be legal,” said Dustin Heuerman, Champaign County Sheriff. “31 grams would be illegal. My dog can’t tell that.”

It’s also tough to teach an old dog new tricks, at least in this case.

“It would be not impossible but it would be very difficult to do, because they’ve been trained to find that odor, and now after however many years you’ve had that dog on the street, you’re trying to take that away from them,” said Nathan Howie, K-9 Trainer.

It could mean early retirement. But replacement?

“You’re talking about a 10-15,000 dollar investment to get a new dog,” said Howie. He also said some departments with small budgets may retire a K-9, but won’t get a new one. But it could be trail and error in some cases on the law for departments who keep their current dogs.

Sheriff Heuerman thinks it might take a court case to decide the K-9’s future.

“I think the law was made with the best intentions in mind,” said Heuerman. “I’m hoping that it’s not going to cost us thousands and thousands of dollars to replace our canines because they’re a very big asset for us.”

K-9 handler Chad Beasley hopes if that’s the worse case scenario, the dogs would get a good home.

“They would retire them to the handler or give the option to the handler,” said Beasley. “I’m not aware of any handler here that would not take their dog home.”

“It’s a bond,” said Howie. “It’s a bond you don’t have with anyone else. You do spend more time with your dog than you do with your family in most cases.”

There’s a lot to iron out between now and January 1st, not just for how it affects K-9s, but how it affects drug enforcement in general. Heuerman said the Illinois Sheriff’s Association is planning to put legislators on ride-alongs so the can see law enforcement’s persepective, and realize everything that practically goes into this law.

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