Future for drug dogs questioned as Virginia mulls decriminalizing marijuana possession

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The abilities of today’s drug-sniffing K-9s will be hindered if Virginia decriminalizes possession of marijuana, says the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.

“You can’t swear a dog in and have the dog testify as to what he smelled,” Executive Director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police Dana Schrad said.

Virginia Democrats have outlined a desire to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana during the 2020 legislative session.

Schrad said challenges could arise because most drug dogs used for on-street detection can smell a collection of substances, not just one.

“If one of those substances he was trained to detect is no longer considered a criminal offense, then his detection of a quantity of marijuana–when there might be other drugs involved–then that makes that dogs’ sort of detection unusable in court.”

Dana Schrad, Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police Executive Director

Those pushing for changes to the way Virginia handles marijuana possession include Jenn Michelle Pedini, development director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

“Any marijuana charge in Virginia, misdemeanor or a felony, will follow a person for a lifetime. It is not an expunge-able crime, and it really does have collateral consequences,” Pedini said.

Schrad said there are places where many of today’s drug dogs could be reassigned if marijuana possession is decriminalized, such as jails and schools.

But the shakeup to the four-legged force could position police departments with having to bring in new dogs, costing up to $50,000 to $60,000 each, Schrad said.

“In some cases they (police departments) get dogs donated. But, if you’re looking for a specific type of dog that you want a pure-bread dog that’s really adept at detecting substances, and then you want to go through the professional training–you go through the FBI or through one of the training centers–it gets very expensive,” Schrad said.

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