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Passing Of Issue 2 Causes Changes For Police K-9s

In recent years the legalization of recreational marijuana has spread to many states around the U.S, Ohio now being one of them. Issue 2 was passed on November 7, 2023, and since then there has been questions about whether K-9s trained in the detection of marijuana will remain in service or if they will head into an early retirement.

Name: Zoro
Age: 8.5 years old
Breed: German Shepard
Photo courtesy of Seth Petit.

For years, K-9s have been trained in detecting a wide variety of substances from different types of drugs, to contraband, all the way to human odor. K-9s usually are trained for eight months to over a year and then meet up with their handler where they will train for a few months after that. Each K-9 can have a specific substance or article they specialize in such as explosive substances or a specific set of drugs. This is where the conflict arises, as Issue 2 passed, law enforcement around the state has to decide how they will move forward with the K-9s trained in the detection of marijuana since it is now legal to use recreationally for people 21 or older.
“It’s a bit unclear, but there are likely some important legal considerations for K-9s that are trained to detect marijuana,” said Sergeant Seth Petit, Wadsworth’s K-9 officer.

 

In anticipation of Issue 2 being passed, the K-9s trained in recent years have not been trained in the detection of marijuana. As far as retraining K-9s in specific odors, such as marijuana, it is uncommon.
“As more states around the country began to pass laws similar to Issue 2 that legalized marijuana recreationally, fewer police K-9s have become trained in searching for marijuana,” Petit said. “Most police K-9s in Ohio that have begun their careers in the past few years are not trained to detect marijuana. Likewise, it is unlikely that police K-9s in Ohio will be routinely trained to detect marijuana.”
Although there are now changes in what the K-9s may need to search for, K-9s that are trained to detect marijuana are still useful to police departments.
“Many dogs that are trained in the detection of marijuana still serve other important roles such as tracking, building searches, criminal apprehension, article [evidence] searches, and handler protection,” Petit said.

Zoro undergoes training in sniffing. Zoro is able to detect objects that contain human odor and he is then able to track or search for them. “For example, if a suspect was driving down the highway and threw a piece of evidence [like a gun] out the window into a field, Zoro could search the field and locate the evidence because it smells of human odor,” Petit said. Photo courtesy of Seth Petit.

However, in areas near Wadsworth such as Stow, their K9 is not able to conduct public narcotics detections.
“Diesel [Stow’s canine] is currently trained to detect marijuana,” said Officer Patrick Myers, an officer for Stow Police Department. “Being that it has been made legal, he is no longer permitted to conduct narcotics detection in a public setting – the reason being he gives the same “indication” for each of the drug odors he detects. Diesel still performs all the ‘patrol’ functions but performs narcotics searches in a limited capacity. He can still conduct drug sniffs in schools where marijuana is illegal for anyone under 21 to possess.”
Sergeant Petit believes that officers at Wadsworth Police Department will still value the role of police K-9s with the role of drug enforcement.
“I can’t speak to the plans of the agency, but I know that the men and women of Wadsworth Police Department are passionate about drug enforcement,” Petit said. “I suspect that the department will continue to make the K-9 unit a priority, and will add additional K-9s to the force as needed.”
Drug dogs are used across the world for drug searches at various places, schools being a big one.

“All of the K-9s in Medina County, and some from other counties, train together twice a month,” Petit said. “We typically sniff the various schools a couple times a year, or as needed. Additionally, we routinely respond to help any agency that is in need of K-9 assistance.”
Though K-9s have stopped training in detecting marijuana in states like Ohio, they will still be able to detect it in schools where the legalization of marijuana for adults over 21 does not apply. If a station no longer has a K-9 trained in detecting marijuana there are other ways for it to be found.
“I might note that entities such as schools could still have a private company bring in dogs trained to detect marijuana or other contraband, maybe even vapes,” Petit said. “They sometimes do this in jails and halfway houses, etc.”
In schools such as Wadsworth High School, they will still be conducting drug searches and continue to use dogs that can detect marijuana.
“We’ll still do the canine searches because they can smell some of the worst drugs… There’s still going to be dogs out there that have that training,” said Officer Smith, the Wadsworth School Resource Officer.
Some agencies and departments may look for dogs that are not trained in detecting marijuana due to potential legal issues, but some may still seek them out for things such as searching high schools.
When dogs search the school they search lockers, cars in the parking lot, and random classrooms where they sniff the backpacks. If a student is caught with one of the illegal substances, they could be charged with underage possession of drugs, fines, court costs, and potentially time in a juvenile detention center.

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