DC’s marijuana-sniffing police dogs being phased out following decriminalization

D.C.’s police department is joining law enforcement agencies across the U.S., including the Virginia State Police, in phasing out the use of dogs to detect drugs.

The move comes after a July 8 report by the D.C. Police Complaints Board. In the report, the board made recommendations aimed at “addressing concerns with the MPD’s Canine Patrol Unit (CPU) and their deployment of canines trained in marijuana detection for sweeps or searches of people or vehicles.”

D.C. police canines trained to detect marijuana, meth, ecstasy, cocaine and heroin will no longer be deployed during traffic stops and other routine patrols, according to police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck.

He said the dogs will be phased out, according to The Washington Post.

People over the age of 21 are allowed to possess up to two ounces of recreational marijuana in D.C.

Virginia State Police is retiring 13 K-9s, while many smaller police departments and sheriff’s offices are retiring one or two dogs, following the commonwealth’s July 1 legalization of adult possession of up to an ounce of marijuana earlier this month.

Sgt. Scott Amos, the canine training coordinator for Virginia State Police, said police have been busy training new dogs to detect ecstasy, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines, while also getting 13 dogs ready for retirement.

He said Apollo, Aries, Bandit, Blaze, Jax, Kane, Mater, Nina, Reno, Sarge, Thunder, Zeus and Zoey are being adopted by their handlers.

Maryland said it has 21 drug dogs currently in deployment. They’re typically used during traffic stops.

“An investigative stop and/or detention of a vehicle for an exterior canine sniff must be supported by reasonable articulable suspicion (RAS) or consent,” said Brenda Carl, spokesperson with Maryland State Police.

She said the state is aware of changes “particularly with our neighboring jurisdictions as it relates to marijuana laws.”

“If Maryland follows the path of Virginia, then there are a few options we may consider. Those drug dogs trained on the marijuana odor may be retired, repurposed or donated. Future dogs brought into the drug discipline would not be trained on the odor of marijuana,” she wrote in an email to WTOP.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Matt Small

Matt joined WTOP News at the start of 2020, after contributing to Washington’s top news outlet as an Associated Press journalist for nearly 18 years.

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