Drugs

Pot Legalization Casualties: Oregon Drug Dogs Get the Pink Slip

With their skill sets made obsolete by marijuana legalization, the state's drug-sniffing canines are out of luck and out of work.

Photo Credit: KellyNelson / Shutterstock.com

As Oregon prepares for the advent of legal marijuana beginning July 1, there are already some clear losers. Among them are the state's drug sniffing dogs, for whom the pink slips are in the mail.

Like technicians in a horsewhip factory in the days of yore, Oregon's drug dogs are workers with a skill set made obsolete by changing times. The dogs are trained to detect any number of illegal substances, including marijuana, but now that weed is about to become legal in Oregon, that pot-sniffing skill becomes not an asset, but a liability.

The reason, police said, is that drug-sniffing dogs are often used to alert authorities about the presence of drugs, providing them with the probable cause necessary to initiate a search. If, 

As the Seattle Times explains, a drug dog alert on an illegal substance provides police with probable cause to search and arrest someone.  If the dog sniffs someone who is carrying both heroin and pot and alerts on a substance that is now legal—like marijuana—that could legally invalidate the search and its fruits. So the drug dogs will have to go.

That's a shame because they're "model employees," Medford Police Sgt. D.J. Graham said of his drug dogs, Cody and Narc, in an interview with the Washington Post.

"They’re both very friendly and both hard-working and have high energy," he told The Washington Post. "They’re both very focused when it comes to their work and they work for cheap: food and play."

Cody and Narc are just two of an estimated 60 drug dog being laid off, according to the Oregon Police Canine Association. That's 40% of the Oregon police dog force.

"It’s kind of sad," Deputy Chief Brett Johnson told the Times. "Nobody wants to see a dog lose its job."

Unlike laid-off human workers who can be retrained, it turns out you really can't teach an old dog new tricks. Or you can, but it's not worth it.

"It’s much harder to retrain a dog than it is to train them for the first time," Graham told The Post, noting that each animal costs $12,000. "Their brains develop synapses the same way human brains do. In times of stress or confusion, it becomes harder to ignore those synapses."

While this generation of Oregon drug dogs is now approaching its sell-by date, police are already working on the next generation. In Medford, police have already requested $24,000 to replace Cody and Narc with new school dogs who will still sniff heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, but won't alert on weed. Whether local government will see that as a good investment remains to be seen. 

 

Phillip Smith is editor of the AlterNet Drug Reporter and author of the Drug War Chronicle.

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