Drug enforcement authorities in Washington are encountering an unusual but awesome problem after the state voted to legalize recreational use of cannabis last year: re-training drug dogs to “unsmell” weed. It’s not a requirement in the state, but departments in Seattle, Bremerton, and Bellevue have opted to either have veteran dogs go through unsmelling training or refrain from teaching new dogs to smell the plant.
“We wanted to train our dog on what was truly illegal substances, that would be heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine,” says Duke Roessel, a dog-handling Bremerton police officer.
There’s also an issue of probable cause (and privacy). If you’re an officer looking for drugs based on the detection of a dog that’s trained to search for weed, is that enough for a warrant? Drug dogs don’t know the difference between the substances they’re sensitive to, so there’s no telling whether they found perfectly legal bud or something more nefarious.
Some buzzkill departments, however, are intent on keeping their pooches sensimilla-sensitive. Possessing over an ounce of pot is still illegal, after all, and so is selling and trafficking the plant outside of the state’s official system. “What about trafficking? What about people who have more than an ounce?” asked Fred Helfers, who trains drug dogs. “Overall, I think there’s still a large amount of agencies on a wait-and-see approach with their dogs.”