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Ohio K-9s trained to detect marijuana on ‘extended breaks’ after legalization

Drug detection K-9s that alert to marijuana will not be able to assist in traffic stops as they have in the past, as marijuana possession no longer constitutes probable cause

Issue 2 weed legalization could mean early retirement, career changes for police K-9s

K-9 Ox is the only K-9 at the Kettering Police Department that is trained to detect marijuana.

Kettering Police Department via Facebook

By Sydney Dawes
Dayton Daily News, Ohio

DAYTON, Ohio — Local police agencies are giving their K-9s that are trained to detect marijuana extended breaks as law enforcement officials across Ohio grapple with the legalization of the drug following the passage of Issue 2.

For K-9s like Cezar and Jax at the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office or Ox at the Kettering Police Department, this could mean early retirement or a change in their day-to-day work. But for now, they join the many K-9s statewide who are staying at home with their handlers.

Issue 2, which allows many Ohioans 21 and older to possess a limited amount of cannabis, went into effect on Dec. 7.

Guidance from the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association points to concerns with the use of K-9 signaling at traffic stops following the passage of Issue 2 in November, saying the treatment of traffic stops will need to change due to legalization.

Dogs trained to sniff out cannabis will signal their handlers to its presence at a traffic stop or other incident. This historically gave officers probable cause for a search.

But now, a positive hit from a canine when a person simply has marijuana in their possession does not necessarily mean there is a “probable cause of criminal activity, since the dog could merely be hitting on what is now legal activity,” the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association’s memo said.

The Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office has been working with local police agencies to determine what steps are next.

“The issue of what to do with K-9s that are trained to alert to cannabis is going to be a concern statewide,” said Montgomery County prosecutor’s office spokesperson Greg Flannagan. “Prosecutor Mat Heck has had discussions with some local police chiefs, as those with K-9s all have the same concerns.”

K-9s can be trained to perform multiple tasks, whether it’s search and rescue or apprehending suspects. Not all of the region’s police K-9s are trained to signal for cannabis.

But the prosecutor’s office has been told a K-9 trained to alert to cannabis cannot be retrained.

The cost of a K-9, including the initial purchases and costs related to training and gear, can be as much as $20,000.

The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office has six K-9s, two of which are trained for marijuana detection along with narcotics detection.

“A final determination on the future of these two specific K-9′s will be made soon once all of the legal implications can be reviewed,” Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Christine Bevins said.

At the Kettering Police Department, only one of four K-9s are trained for marijuana detection.

“Thankfully, we have a very successful K-9 program that projected this law change a long time ago,” Kettering Police Department shared in a social media post in November, before the adult-use law went into effect.

“Because of this, KPD stopped training our K-9s on how to detect marijuana years ago... We still have no idea how the state will ultimately write out the new law regarding marijuana and its potential restrictions it may have. K-9 Ox will either retire upon the creation of the new law, or pending the restrictions the law gives, his narcotics functions will simply be given new limitations that coincide with the new law.”

No dog is trained only for marijuana detection at the Dayton Police Department, whose spokesperson confirmed all dogs “remain in service.”


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