Pot No Longer Going to the Dogs in Washington State


Published: 04/23/2013

by Comfortably Numb


Marijuana Dog

What is a dog to do?  The passing of Amendment I-502 in Washington State, which legalized the personal use of marijuana, has brought about a change in how drug sniffing dogs are being trained and how they perform their duties.  It has been reported that some police agencies in Washington are beginning to retrain their drug dogs to ignore marijuana.

The Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys recently issued a memo that explains that the dogs can no longer be the exclusive justification for a personal search.  Currently the dogs still alert police as to the presence of marijuana, since a majority of them were trained prior to when Amendment I-502 went into effect.  Washington prosecutors now warn police they may now need more than a K-9's alert for a search warrant.

“Moving forward, it makes most sense not to train dogs to alert to marijuana as that would likely lead to unwarranted investigatory detentions of people who are not breaking any law," says Alison Holcomb, author of I-502 and ACLU drug policy director.

Seattle Police Department’s Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said that his department is already taking steps to retrain its dogs to be desensitized to marijuana through a reward system and constant training.  The Seattle Police Department has stated that it is no longer training drug sniffing dogs to detect marijuana. This requires "lots of training," says SPD Sgt. Sean Holcomb, “Got to keep those sniffers in shape.”

The Washington State Patrol is also reportedly discontinuing their marijuana training for their police dogs.

However, not all major police departments in Washington are on board with the retraining.  The Tacoma Police Department appears to be refusing to adapt to the new canine training regimen, since marijuana is still illegal under federal law.  Arrests in those counties for marijuana possession, which are based solely on the dog’s alert, will be suspect and most likely overturned and considered an unwarranted search.

So what happens in the meantime between training new dogs and retraining current dogs?  Washington police officers will no longer be able to obtain a search warrant based on a dog's alert alone.  A recent memo from the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, states that these changes will remain in place until the current dogs retire in order to prevent any unwarranted searches.

This is great news for Washington residents.