Despite comments recently made by an Illinois detective, experts and police have vowed that drug-sniffing dogs won’t be euthanized should Illinois legalize recreational pot use.
Decatur police Detective Chad Larner told a local newspaper that a number of K-9s trained specifically for sniffing out marijuana would need to be euthanized if the drug is legalized in the state.
The comments follow Cook County voters' overwhelming support of the legalization of recreational marijuana during the March primary election. When answering a ballot question from the Cook County Board, 63 percent of voters in the second largest municipal county in the United States said they would support full legalization.
The referendum was non-binding, which means voters shouldn’t expect any immediate action from their legislators in Springfield. But the huge amount of popular support behind the referendum may be writing on the wall for the state government’s current stance on marijuana.
But do supporters now need to worry about police dogs being euthanized should they vote yes?
Decatur Police Chief James Getz said that is not the case.
“It was a bad choice of words on [Larner’s] part,” Getz said. “We intend to keep our dogs for as long as they are able to work for us.”
According to the article in The Pantagraph, Larner said that retraining such dogs would be “extreme abuse” and could result in “unlawful search and seizures.” He noted that many K-9s are trained to not be social, meaning without work, they would likely need to be euthanized.
But Getz said the department’s dogs are “multipurpose,” so if they can’t be used for “open air sniffs on cars, we’ve got other uses for them.”
“They would continue to work for us and stay in service until they can no longer work for us and at that point we give them to a canine handler and they’re part of their family,” Getz said.
Those comments have been echoed by Chicago-area police departments.
Cook County Sheriff’s spokesperson Cara Smith said she didn’t “believe legalizing marijuana would impact [K-9’s] tremendous utility to our office and the public we serve.”
Smith noted that there are a total of 14 canines in the sheriff’s office, nine of which a “dual purpose narcotics canines,” which are trained to detect marijuana, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.
“The dual purpose canines in addition to detecting narcotics are trained to track offenders, search buildings for offenders, conduct area searches for offenders, conduct evidence searches, and to apprehend fleeing or resisting offenders,” Smith said in a statement.
She added there are also two bloodhounds trained to look for missing or lost people as well as criminal offenders and three explosive detection canines.
All Cook County Sheriff’s dogs are trained in house with a master trainer certified through the North American Police Work Dog Association, Smith said.
Chicago police also noted their current 60 K-9s are “dual purpose” are “are trained in narcotics, offender searches, lost or missing persons, article searches for evidence, cadavers, tracking, and handler protection.”
“None are solely trained on a specific narcotic odor, however we do have explosive K9's trained solely for that purpose,” the department said in a statement. “Future CPD K9 training and policy regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana will ultimately depend on the enacted legislation.”
Experts note that while retraining such dogs is difficult, and could be costly, it is not impossible.
Should the state legalize marijuana, it would likely result in training adjustments for new police dogs and may raise questions in certain drug searches.