Pot-sniffing dogs’ jobs haven’t gone up in smoke

www.sfchronicle.com
Date:
Tuesday, Jun 13, 2017

Legal marijuana is in the air across California, but local and state law enforcement agencies say they won’t retire their pot-sniffing narcotics dogs anytime soon. [...] police agencies say their drug-trained dogs still have plenty of value, especially when it comes to taking down large-scale drug operations. “While laws regarding marijuana have changed, certain activities are still considered crimes,” said Giselle Talkoff, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Police Department. Laws and regulations still govern sales, possession and transport, (and) there are times when the illegal possession of marijuana can coincide with other crimes. Most of California’s drug-trained police dogs go through an intensive training program where they learn to bark or sit when they smell heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine or marijuana. Some agencies were worried that the dogs would wind up calling unnecessary attention to legal weed, but Denver’s four police dogs have continued to be a key part of the force, said Denver Police Capt. James Henning. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, which uses narcotics canines on patrol and at Oakland International Airport and lends pooches to Oakland on occasion, is also hanging onto its current contingent, said its spokesman and former dog trainer, Ray Kelly. [...] Prop. 64, which made it legal for individuals to use marijuana and grow it for personal use, specifically states that legal amounts of marijuana and cannabis products don’t create the basis for a search, detention or arrest. The Law Enforcement Action Partnership, a national group of current and former police officers who support an end to the War on Drugs, agrees that the use of drug-trained dogs can create legal problems. Rusty White, a spokesman for the partnership and a former canine trainer, said some police departments cut corners by training their own dogs, and those dogs’ noses might not meet legal standards. The U.S. Police Canine Association — a national organization for police departments that work with these dogs — isn’t offering guidance on what to do when states legalize pot. Local and state police agencies say they’ll work around the legal issues by leaving behind narcotics dogs when out on patrol. [...] even though canines cost plenty to train, Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff’s office says they save about 1,000 officer hours each year searching for drugs, weapons and other contraband, and good ones wind up paying for themselves many times over, because of asset forfeiture in drug cases. California Narcotic Canine Association, Alameda County Sheriff's Dept, California Highway Patrol

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