With cannabis normalization sweeping the country, police in Vermont see no reason to continue training their K-9 officers to detect and alert on the telltale aroma of the plant. This still leaves plenty of other, far more important things for them to detect (like explosives, lost or escaped people, and blood, to name just a few). Nevertheless, predictably, not everyone in law enforcement is happy about the change.
Priorities smell funny—thanks to money
Anthony Facos is chief of police in the capital city of Montpelier. He’s worried about the monetary cost to his state if cannabis becomes something people in Vermont can’t be hounded, marginalized, and punished for. And not just because of no longer being able to confiscate all their cash and personal belongings or to reap federal weed-war money. “If Vermont were to legalize marijuana, it would have a profound impact on drug detection K-9s,” he said. “All local and state dogs would need to be replaced at significant cost to the state police and to municipalities that would have to get new dogs that were not trained to alert for marijuana.”
What that largely erroneous and misleading statement reveals is deeper concern about legalization’s effect on dogs, and the costs of dog training, than about the monetary and societal costs of hunting people down, terrorizing and even imprisoning them, just for handling a substance far less harmful than, say, alcohol or tobacco for private relaxing and socializing.
Also, for many people, cannabis is a vastly more effective remedy for their medical conditions than any toxic pills they have ever been prescribed, one that even helps people get off opioid medications; so, they logically choose cannabis. Arresting and incarcerating ordinary citizens for this, in many cases, permanently ruins their lives. (If the dogs knew this, they would never want to be part of it. In some ways they’re more humane than a lot of humans!)
Robert Ryan, Vermont’s head K-9 training coordinator, takes a more pragmatic, level-headed view. He calmly notes that when cannabis is legalized, police dogs already trained to alert on it will not lose their jobs; they will instead be re-assigned. They will still be needed for federal police work and searching schools and prisons. “It’s not going to be legal for high school kids to have marijuana,” he said. Residents of Montpelier have to hope their police chief knew these facts, but had momentarily forgotten about them, when he said all the drug dogs in the state would have to be replaced.
“The dogs that are already trained to smell marijuana are still going to be used,” Ryan said. “There will be plenty of uses for those dogs.”
Steve Mitchell of the Oregon State Police agrees, adding that when the Beaver State began seriously considering legalization, they did with their dogs exactly what Vermont is doing. “When the law was passed, we almost immediately transitioned to K-9s that don’t alert to marijuana, just to all the other drugs that are illegal,” he said.
He reports no problems with the training change, noting that herb-sniffing dogs were simply re-assigned to schools and prisons. Moreover, if the pro-cannabis freedom law in Vermont for some reason were to fail, dogs can always be trained to alert on the plant at a later time. As it carries a strong odor, dogs find it easy to detect, making it easier to train them to give the alert signal for cannabis than for other, less-pungent smells.
There is a very popular misconception held by many regular folks about drug-sniffing dogs that the odor of contraband cannabis can be masked by packing it with other materials that have a strong smell. In reality nothing could be further from the truth.
Barry Cooper is a former K-9 instructor and top Texas narcotics officer with over 800 narco arrests. Years ago he saw the light, switched sides, and today helps citizens avoid being victimized by deviant drug laws and the courts. He says people holding cannabis often get nailed because dogs don’t smell in the way we smell.
Instead, they smell in the way we see.
When we look, for example, at a table strewn with objects, we can readily see all the individual items and pick out any one of them that we choose to find. We can glance from car keys to phone, from ashtray to magazines to bowl of nuts, easily seeing and identifying them all in rapid succession. Most notably, no image is “drowned out” by the presence of other sights simultaneously appearing in our field of vision.
When dogs smell things, it’s a very similar scenario. So, as Cooper explains, if cannabis is packed inside cans of coffee with mothballs added, then hidden in a truck’s gas tank, trained dogs will approach the scene and have no difficulty. They will smell the gasoline, the mothballs, the coffee, the cans,…and the cannabis. As if looking right at it. Canines can consistently single out smells in this manner with a degree of accuracy that is nothing short of jaw-dropping.
Our sense of smell is not only tens of thousands of times weaker than that of dogs, but also it works differently and lacks this power of discernment. For us, one aroma can easily be masked by another, and then another still stronger scent, until the original is completely undetectable even if we KNOW it’s there.
This is an extremely fortunate physiological phenomenon for the $40 billion global perfume industry. That enterprise would never have come into existence if our sense of smell functioned like that of dogs. Humans—especially those in locales where cannabis Prohibition is still hanging on, like a stubborn burr clinging tightly to a dog’s hind end—would be wise to remember that the dog’s sense of smell is almost magical and plan accordingly.
Unlike smoked or vaped cannabis, particles of which adhere to your hair and clothing and leave a scent trace, herb that’s inside your digestive and circulatory systems is very difficult for even the best-sniffing dogs to detect. So, for dozens of mouth-watering cannabis recipes, how-to videos, and info on the Botanical Extractor™ for making your own magical edibles, check out MagicalButter.com.
Garyn Angel is an inventor, entrepreneur, award-winning financial consultant, and CEO of MagicalButter.com, which manufactures the appliance he invented for converting cannabis to an edible form. Angel is committed to cannabis law reform and was named to the CNBC NEXT List of global business leaders for his work on legal marijuana. He is also founder of the Cheers to Goodness Foundation, a charity that helps “medical refugees”—veterans and children who need cannabis therapy when traditional treatment options have failed. Angel’s charity helps families relocate to states where cannabis medicine is legally accessible.