Medical Marijuana In Utah Could Mean Retirement For Generation Of Drug K-9s

Dec 3, 2018, 11:43 PM | Updated: Dec 4, 2018, 12:11 am

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, Utah – Life with medical marijuana in Utah could potentially mean a significant expense for police departments around the state — a new generation of K-9s that do not sniff for marijuana.

Drug-sniffing K-9s are typically trained to indicate to their handlers when they detect a variety of illegal drugs — from marijuana to cocaine to meth to heroin to ecstasy to psilocybin mushrooms — but that indication looks the same.

“The dogs don’t differentiate to us what they’re finding — if it’s marijuana or cocaine,” said Cottonwood Heights police officer Ken Eatchel, who has worked as a K-9 handler for 21 years.

Eatchel said legalized medical marijuana may lead to challenges when using the current generation of K-9s to establish probable cause to search for any drug.

“If the dogs are trained on marijuana and (drivers) do have the (medical marijuana) card, that could require some protocols set in place,” Eatchel said.

Beyond the short-term, Eatchel said new K-9s may be needed.

“It may be difficult to re-train them,” Eatchel said. “The dogs that are currently working may have to be retired.”

K-9s don’t come cheaply.

Eatchel said a single dog alone can cost as much as $10,000 and that does not count the hundreds of man-hours that go into training.

The Cottonwood Heights Police Department decided to go a different direction with its newest K-9.

“Anticipating that the new laws will be coming into effect, we did not train that one on marijuana,” Eatchel said.

Eatchel underscored it is very early in the process and there is more to be determined in terms of what can be done with the current generation of K-9s.

“We’ll have to get some clarification with the legal community and with the attorneys, and determine what protocols we’ll have to set in place and how we move forward, however, it will change a lot of the ways we do things currently,” Eatchel said.

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Medical Marijuana In Utah Could Mean Retirement For Generation Of Drug K-9s