Pot legalization puts older drug-sniffing K-9s into retirement
Officer Tulo will turn in his badge in January, forced into early retirethan ment by the country’s waning war on weed.
In his eight years with the police department of Rifle, Colorado, Tulo, a yellow Labrador retriever, has helped with more 170 arrests in the town of 9,000. But one of his old-fashioned skills hasn’t just fallen out of demand since the state legalized marijuana, it has become a liability: State court rulings mean that Tulo’s keen nose for pot imperils his work on other drug cases.
As states and cities loosen their drug laws, the highly trained dogs their police departments use to sniff out narcotics can’t always be counted on to smell the right thing.
“A dog can’t tell you, ‘Hey, I smell marijuana’ or ‘I smell meth,’ ” said Tommy Klein, Rifle’s police chief. “They have the same behavior for any drug that they’ve been trained on. If Tulo were to alert on a car, we no longer have probable cause for a search based on his alert alone.”
Older canine workers across the country – and 14 narcotics dogs in Canada, where retail marijuana sales began last month – are being eased out of the labor force. When the police department in Winnipeg, Manitoba, went shopping this year for a pup, the Belgian Malinois they chose, named Ivy, arrived with a more modern advantage: She has no reaction to marijuana.
In many places that have legalized the drug, most new recruits are, like Ivy, no longer being trained to sniff out pot. And even departments in states where marijuana remains verboten are hedging their bets.
“I just did a dog for a department in Texas that asked me not to put marijuana on her,” said Ron Cloward, owner of Top Dog Police K-9 Training and Consulting in Modesto, California. “They had the feeling there could be some changes coming there, and they wanted to plan ahead.”
In Colorado, an appeals court ruling in 2017 helped hasten Tulo’s retirement. Kilo, a drugdetection dog in rural Moffat County, flagged a man’s truck for containing contraband. When officers searched it, they found a pipe with what appeared to be methamphetamine residue.
But Kilo was trained to find multiple drugs, including marijuana. Even though no marijuana was found in the truck, the three-judge panel said Kilo’s signal was no longer a reliable indicator of illegal activity. The court ruled that officers therefore had no legal grounds to search the truck, and overturned the conviction.