Why teaching police dogs not to bark for pot is a waste of time — even in Washington (or Colorado)

After Washington voters approved Initiative 502 — which legalized the possession of marijuana in small quantities — state police were faced with a bit of a dilemma: they owned a kennel full of dogs trained to detect a drug that is no longer criminal. And so, according to the AP, they are already hard at work desensitizing those dogs to the scent in question:

The newest drug-sniffing dog on the police force in Bremerton, near Seattle, is one of a few police dogs in Washington state [sic] 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.

“We wanted to train our dog on what was truly illegal substances, that would be heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine,” said Dusty’s handler, Officer Duke Roessel, who added that Dusty nabbed five pounds of meth during that recent search.

Police departments in Bremerton, Bellevue and Seattle, as well as the Washington State [sic – Editor’s note: in addition to my usual objection, I’d like to point out the inconsistent capitalization of the S/s. Shame on you, AP.] 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.

But while these efforts to make dogs stop barking when they get a whiff of weed are certainly well-intentioned, at the end of the day, they’re a waste of time. I come to this conclusion not because I think the federal government will eventually force Washington to comply with its nationwide war on drugs (though it might), but because we can’t really know that the dogs were ever actually telling us they detected drugs in the first place.

Every time they bark — once and future — how do we know they weren’t just sitting and pointing to say, “This one definitely ain’t got [illegal drugs] in it”? After all, what we do know for sure is that 99% of dogs can’t speak English [at 2:15]:

Moreover, teaching the dogs to bark infrequently comes at a real cost: less detection equals less barking equals less [sic] Scooby Snacks. One only hopes that after inhaling all that legally-sanctioned smoke — and not being able to do anything about it — those dogs don’t come down with a case of the munchies. Or that they still manage to sniff up some (still-illegal) heroin in order to earn their rewards.

Something tells me that — in Seattle, at least — they’re not gonna have any trouble.

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3 thoughts on “Why teaching police dogs not to bark for pot is a waste of time — even in Washington (or Colorado)”

  1. Now that we have body scanners and tighter security the dreaded SSSS is no more. They still get notifications for random massages when you go through the metal detector.

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