Law Enforcement Consider Retraining And Replacing Drug Sniffer Dogs After Marijuana Legalization

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HELENA – For years law enforcement in Montana has used trained drug sniffer dogs to search for illegal narcotics. Now, however, possession of small amounts of marijuana – one of the drugs they detected – is no longer illegal in the state. This means that these agencies must consider the possibility of recycling – or even replacing – their K-9s.

The Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office currently has a K-9: Villi, a 6-year-old German Shepherd. He is trained to apprehend and track suspects as well as to snort drugs. When it detects a targeted drug, it stops and looks for where the smell is coming from.

Sgt. LCSO K-9 master Uriah Wood has been working with Villi since November 2016. He contacted the company that trained the dog to ask what he could do to respond to the legalization of marijuana.

“He said we have two options: we can make Villi and get a new dog at a discounted rate, or we can try to do what’s called dropout training and get him to drop that target scent. “said Wood. “Knowing how well he can be trained and how smart he is, I suggested to our administration – and to save money – to try the quit training.

The administrators accepted. Wood and Villi went to Ohio for two weeks in March, where they underwent repeated training aimed at showing the dog that he will not be rewarded for locating marijuana.

“When we first started, of course, there was a lot of apprehension, because you’re like, ‘Can we do this? “” said Wood. “It’s a lot of time that was devoted to him before. This will make it or break it continue working for our agency. “

He says the results have been clear.

“He’s been there; he did it brilliantly, ”said Wood. “We worked in the streets; he gave no indication of marijuana in any of our training sessions. It is an interesting scent to him, but there is no alert behavior.

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Not all agencies have the same approach. Montana Highway Patrol officials say they don’t plan to retrain any of their nine drug detector dogs. Instead, they will replace each at the end of their law enforcement career – typically around seven years.

“For now, we are strategically going to ensure that some of these dogs, as the replacements arrive, are not trained on marijuana,” said Sgt. Jay Nelson.

However, MHP plans to keep some dogs trained for marijuana, so they can detect large amounts, which is still prohibited.

“Our K-9s aren’t used on the person who doesn’t use their turn signal and get arrested,” Nelson said. “It’s not just a random thought to use a K-9 snort. These are cases where there are multiple indicators that this person is carrying a large amount of illegal drugs.”

During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers earmarked $ 300,000 to provide grants to local and state law enforcement agencies to purchase or train drug sniffer dogs to prepare for changing laws. on marijuana.

Every dog ​​is different, and Wood acknowledged that recycling might not always be the best option. However, he believes they made the right decision with Villi.

“It’s great to be able to do it with him – a partner – and to be able to have an impact on drugs and crime here,” he said.

Wood said he spent around $ 5,000 to $ 6,000 to recycle Villi. He said it would have been around $ 15,000 for a new dog.

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