Training Drug-Sniffing Dogs Not to Detect Pot

Since the state of Washington legalized marijuana in a referendum last November, some Washington police departments have been trying to teach their drug-sniffing dogs not to detect pot:

When Dusty, a 19-month-old black Labrador, walked past a pipe full of marijuana during a recent police search of a house, he was doing exactly what his handler hoped.

The newest drug-sniffing dog on the police force in Bremerton, near Seattle, is one of a few police dogs in Washington state that are not trained to point out pot during searches. Other police departments are considering or in the midst of re-training their dogs to ignore pot as well, part of the new reality in a state where voters last fall legalized marijuana use….

Police departments in Bremerton, Bellevue and Seattle, as well as the Washington State Patrol, have either put the dogs through pot desensitization training or plan not to train them for marijuana detection…

Police say that having a K-9 unit that doesn’t alert to pot will lessen challenges to obtaining search warrants because the dog won’t be pointing out possible legal amounts of the drug. Traditionally, dogs are trained to alert on the smell of marijuana, heroin, crack cocaine, methamphetamine and cocaine. They can’t tell which one it is or how much of each there is.

I previously blogged about problems with drug-sniffing dogs here and here; the evidence suggests that they are often inaccurate, and it’s far from clear that this retraining will work. However, retraining would not be necessary if Washington would only legalize other currently banned drugs as well. Then it could avoid the need for drug-sniffing dogs entirely. Retrievers should be devoting their time to nobler pursuits.