Colorado Supreme Court to hear arguments in case that will decide future of pot-sniffing police dogs

Beaker the Belgian Malinois was solely 7 years previous when changing marijuana legal guidelines led his handler to hang up the canine’s police vest.

Beaker, like many police canine across the nation, is educated to alert his handler when he smells marijuana. But his sign for pot is identical as it is for other medicine, similar to heroin or meth, stated Arvada police Officer Brian Laas, the canine’s handler.

That’s an issue in Colorado, as a result of Okay-9 handlers can’t tell whether the dog is alerting them to the presence of an unlawful substance or legal amounts of weed, and police need probable cause that a crime has been dedicated earlier than looking additional.

On Wednesday, the Colorado Supreme Courtroom will hear oral arguments in a case that may set requirements for using police canine’ drug-detection expertise in this state — and could have repercussions across the nation. The state appeals courtroom beforehand ruled in the same case that a police dog’s signal that a drug is present isn’t sufficient evidence by itself to help a search of a car if the canine is educated to detect pot.

Vince Petkosek, with the Pueblo Police Department K-9 Unit, plays with Sage
RJ Sangosti, The Denver Submit

Vince Petkosek, with the Pueblo Police Division’s Okay-9 Unit, plays with Sage, a yellow Lab, outdoors the department on Dec. 11, 2018, in Pueblo.

The opinion from the state’s highest courtroom might set informal, though not legally binding, precedent for Okay-9 packages throughout the nation, stated David Ferland, government director of the United States Police Canine Association. Not only will it have an effect on canine educated to seek out medicine, comparable arguments might be made about canines educated to seek out guns and explosives, he stated.

“All states are listening to what’s happening in Colorado right now,” he stated.

Since recreational marijuana was legalized in 2012, regulation enforcement businesses in Colorado have struggled to determine what to do with their Okay-9s educated to signal for pot. Between one hundred and one hundred twenty police canine work in Colorado, and about 20 % nonetheless alert for marijuana, stated Laas, who is the president of the Colorado Police K-9 Association.

Some businesses, corresponding to police departments in Arvada and Rifle, have retired a number of canine early to make method for Okay-9s that are not educated to alert to marijuana.

Beaker’s health issues also contributed to the canine’s early retirement, Laas stated. However Beaker doubtless would have labored no less than another yr if the legal questions round marijuana weren’t a factor. As an alternative of working, Beaker spends his days at Laas’ house, whereas Rudy — his alternative, who is just not educated to alert to pot — continues his police work.

The Pueblo Police Division bought a new dog, a yellow Labrador retriever named Sage, in December 2017 as an addition to its different Okay-9 after the appeals courtroom ruling. Sage doesn’t alert to marijuana.

“Our chief took steps to get forward of the sport and any courtroom choice which may come,” stated Pueblo police Detective Vince Petkosek, who handles Sage and Widget, the other dog.

Other departments, such as Loveland police…

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