Law enforcement agencies making changes to K-9 units after cannabis legalization

Marijuana

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The legalization of recreational marijuana in New Mexico is having a big impact on K-9 units at law enforcement agencies across the state. Ayke is a K-9 with Santa Fe Police, joining in 2020 when the department decided to bring the program back.

“He is trained on three main drugs. So he does heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine,” said Officer Alejandro Arroyo, Ayke’s handler with the Santa Fe Police Department. “He is not trained on marijuana.”

SFPD decided not to bring on a K-9 who detects marijuana after the city decriminalized possession of small amounts in 2014. The department also anticipated the state could legalize its recreational use soon.

“It’s a significant investment. It’s about $13,000 per dog and it can go up from there,” said Benjamin Valdez, Deputy Chief of Police with SFPD. He also pointed to the amount of time invested to train a new dog with a handler. “For us, it wasn’t worthwhile to train a dog that can detect cannabis,” Valdez said.

SFPD said a K-9 alerting to marijuana now that it’s legalized, could lead to problematic searches. “If the dog was trained on marijuana and he did detect, the dog is going to alert to the handler that there is something in that vehicle. and if it’s marijuana, it’s going to be a case that’s not valid, it’s going to be thrown out,” said Arroyo.

“If the dog was trained on detecting cannabis now that it’s legal and they gave a detection any evidence that’s found to be there, and let’s say cannabis is present, they’ll be able to suppress any evidence that comes out of that search whether it’s additional narcotics, if it’s evidence that would support bringing someone to trial for violent crime like a homicide, that evidence would be suppressed and deemed unconstitutional for someone to conduct a search that with a dog that was trained to detect cannabis,” said Valdez.

The legalization of marijuana does not require law enforcement to have agencies have new dogs that don’t detect marijuana, but many are choosing to. Las Cruces police said all of its six K-9s are ‘dual purpose’ K-9s used for patrols and to detect narcotics. Those K-9s will now only be used for patrols which include tracking, high-risk stops, and apprehension.

New Mexico State Police will replace all of its nine K-9s across the state. A spokesperson with the agency said they will either be retired or donated to states who have not yet legalized marijuana. NMSP hopes to have its newly-trained K-9s by the fall of this year.

A spokesperson with the Albuquerque Police Department said it has nine K-9s. Of those, one is a drug detection K-9. “We will not be getting rid of our drug detection K-9 as there will always be a need for drug detection K-9s, especially when making large drug seizures. There are many other drugs besides marijuana that the K-9s can detect,” Rebecca Atkins, APD spokesperson, said in an emailed statement.

So, how can someone with more than the legal two ounces of marijuana get caught when many K-9s won’t detect cannabis? “You have to be pretty blatant in your violation of the law to be able to be caught,” said Valdez.

SFPD is working on bringing on a second drug detection K-9 that will not detect cannabis.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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