Illinois Police Warn K-9s May Have to Be ‘Put Down’ if Marijuana Is Legalized

Some police officials in Illinois are warning that their specially trained, drug-sniffing police dogs will have to be euthanized if the state legalizes marijuana.

Calls to legalize pot are growing in Illinois as users hope for acceptance of their favorite substance and politicians eye another source of tax dollars, but some police dog trainers say that an unintended consequence will befall the state’s police dogs if laws are changed to make pot legal, the Pantagraph recently reported.

Chad Larner, training director of the police K-9 Training Academy for Macon County, Illinois, noted that police dogs are carefully trained for their specific purpose, and the idea of trying to retrain them not to identify marijuana would amount to “extreme abuse” of the dogs.

Larner said there are about 275 K-9s in the Land of Lincoln, but many will have to be put down if pot is legalized. Because of their extensive training, the dogs are not like regular dogs, Larner said. He also insisted it would not be easy to retrain the dogs to ignore scents they have been trained to recognize since they were young.

He noted that if dogs do not take to retraining, they may subject people to unfair drug stops. “We do not want to subject innocent citizens or motorists who travel through Illinois … to unlawful search and seizures,” Larner said.

The dog expert added that K-9s are not easily adopted by willing families because they are not trained to be “social” animals.

Macon County Sheriff Howard Buffett agreed the dogs will be put in jeopardy if pot is legalized. “[T]he biggest thing for law enforcement is, you’re going to have to replace all of your dogs,” Buffett said. “So to me, it’s a giant step forward for drug dealers, and it’s a giant step backwards for law enforcements and the residents of the community.”

Assistant Police Chief Steve Petrilli of the Normal Police Department also said dogs could not be retrained to ignore the scent of marijuana and insisted K-9s would end up being euthanized if lawmakers change the laws.

Other states have faced similar problems after changes in the law. Some have tried retraining, while others have retained their K-9s for use only in large-scale drug seizures instead of using them for sniffing out pot in small cases.

Then there are the training costs that will go to waste if K-9s become useless due to legalization. According to the outlet, it takes up to 16 weeks to train a dog and costs about $5,000 per dog for initial training in drug detection. The ultimate cost can be $16,000 per dog with ongoing training and maintenance. If dogs are euthanized because of a law change, that would be precious budget money wasted and then doubled, as new dogs will have to be purchased and trained in ways to reflect the new laws.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.