Police dogs trained to find pot could become a thing of the past in Oregon.

Law enforcement agencies are grappling with the future of their drug-detection dogs once Measure 91, which allows people over age 21 to possess up to eight ounces of marijuana, takes affect this year.

Because it is difficult to retrain dogs to not alert handlers to marijuana, some agencies may choose to gradually phase their K-9s out while others may replace them altogether.

In some cases, detection dogs with proper training can be reassigned to patrol.

The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office began phasing out four-odor dogs, which detect pot, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, over the past two years.

When a K-9 that detected pot retired, the agency replaced the animal with a dog that detects heroin, meth, cocaine and their variants.

“If Oregon had not voted to approve marijuana, we would have just added that odor later,” explained Sgt. Don Boone, a Clackamas County K-9 handler.

The idea is to avoid challenges to evidence or cases.

“If our dog was to alert on a joint in a car and we search a car based on that alert and then come to find out that it was just a small amount of marijuana that’s legal, somebody might be able to complain about the search and seizure of that,” Boone said.

Officer Rob Havice, a Medford Police K-9 handler, said law enforcement agencies are switching to three-odor dogs in order to avoid issues obtaining probable cause to search a vehicle.

Right now, a K-9 alert is probable cause to search a vehicle, abandoned bag or closed container he said.

“If you have a four-odor dog you wouldn’t be able to obtain that probable cause because there could be a legal agent, being marijuana, that the dog is detecting,” he said. “So a judge would not approve an affidavit based on that.”

Havice, who is the detection chairman for the Oregon Police Canine Association, said dogs that detect pot will still be useful after July 1.

They may be used to detect pot in certain types of marijuana investigations, federal investigations and checking on people on who cannot possess pot while on probation.

In Vancouver, WA, pot-detecting dogs are still used in certain situations, such as school searches, according to Vancouver police spokeswoman Kim Kapp.

Kapp said the Vancouver Police Department did not have to replace any detection K-9s when pot became legal in because they stopped training new dogs to detect marijuana before Washington’s pot legalization law took effect.

Oregon law enforcement agencies are hopeful the state Department of Justice will provide law enforcement with guidelines for use of their detection dogs after Measure 91 takes effect.

K-9 handlers anticipate a transition period that may end with four-odor dogs completely phased out.

“The nice thing about being in the Portland metro area is there are a lot of trained K-9s up there so there will be a nice mixture of three, four-odor dogs come July 1,” Havice said. “That even if an agency doesn’t have three-odor dogs, they’ll be able to call one of the other agencies.”

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