Decriminalization of marijuana in Virginia forces deputies to part with marijuana-imprinted K-9s

Virginia Politics

TAZEWELL, Va. (WVNS) — On Saturday, March 7, 2020 Virginia lawmakers voted to decriminalize marijuana. The move will have a ripple effect on law enforcement agencies across the commonwealth, forcing them to send their four-legged officers packing.

The bill to decriminalize marijuana will go into effect on July 1, 2020.

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Sheriff Brian Hieatt said the change means the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office had to part with their two K-9s, Criss and Tina.

“The handlers of those dogs become close, they have a sentimental attachment to those animals, so we hated to see them leave because they had done a good job,” Hieatt explained.

Hieatt explained agencies can no longer use K-9s that were imprinted with marijuana because they cannot tell their handlers what drug they are detecting, just that they detect one of the drugs for which they were trained. He said once a dog is imprinted with a drug, it can never be undone.

“If the dog hits on that car the question comes up, are we legally able to search a car?” Hieatt said. “If what he was hitting on was marijuana, and you may search the car and find illegal guns, but because there was a small amount of marijuana in there, then the question comes up, since it is not a criminal offense now, it is a civil matter, did we have a right to search that car?”

They had to sell Criss and Tina to agencies in states where marijuana is still illegal, but the money they made is not enough to cover the $30,000 it will cost the department for two new K-9s and six weeks of training.

“You have to go through that training with that specific dog, so that he learns you and and that that officer is able to teach it the commands and work with it for several weeks at a time,” said Hieatt.

The new dual-purpose K9s will be used to detect narcotics as well as track and apprehend people. They will be trained in other drugs, but not marijuana.

The Tazewell County Sheriff’s Department should have the new dogs in use this May.


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