The Maryland state legislature has overridden Governor Larry Hogan’s veto and passed legislation making it a civil offense—rather than a criminal one—to smoke marijuana in public. The law also means that citizens who have up to 10 grams of marijuana in their cars will not be arrested—they’ll just receive a small fine. This decriminalization, echoing situations around the country, has complicated the role of dogs that are trained to detect the plant.
Drug-sniffing dogs are very expensive—often imported from Europe and costing up to $10,000, which doesn’t include the cost of training them. Yet Maryland’s traffic-stop dogs and many other cops’ canines now risk becoming obsolete because they will alert their handlers when they’re not supposed to.
At a Drug Policy Alliance conference last November, Captain Deanna Nollette of the Seattle Police Department explained how her city—in a state that legalized marijuana in 2012—has been affected: “We’re having to retire our drug sniffer dogs,” she said, “because you can’t un-train dogs who have been trained to detect marijuana, so you can’t tell if they’re detecting marijuana or other drugs.”
Fortunately for the pooches in Maryland, their human partners still find them useful on patrols, and homes will be provided with their handlers if retirement does beckon. And opportunities for animals with their skill-set remain in the private sector.