Police K9s in New Mexico forced to retire due to recreational cannabis legalization

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(Pictured) K9 Aries

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

The Tucumcari Police Department, which is made up of 18 sworn officers and five civilian staff personnel, recently announced on Facebook that it will be retiring K9 Aries. 

‘With the legalization of recreational [cannabis], K9 Aries is unable to continue his function as a narcotics detection dog,’ reads the department’s social media post. 

Aries became a valuable, four-legged member of the city’s police department on February 12, 2015. However, the police force claims that, following the legalization of recreational cannabis in New Mexico, the canine’s skills are no longer fitting.

Since Aries along with other drug sniffer dogs cannot determine precisely which drug is present during a raid/investigation, law enforcement officials acknowledge that they will be violating someone’s rights if a search warrant is issued based on the detection of cannabis.

“Now [cannabis] is legal, if the dog alerts on it, and we got a search warrant, we’d be violating someone’s rights,” said Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe. “So that meant the easiest, simplest thing was to just stop using those dogs for that purpose.”

Replacing K9’s in New Mexico could be financially burdensome

Across New Mexico, where cannabis legalization was effectuated on June 29, 2021, law enforcement agencies are figuring out how to adapt to the newly legal market. 

Since a handler cannot identify if a canine finds heroin, meth or legal cannabis, all nine drug sniffing dogs at New Mexico State Police will also retire.

Moreover, back on May 4, the Farmington Police Department which serves more than 45,000 people and patrols 33 square miles of land revealed its plans to retire all drug-sniffing dogs due to difficulties in establishing probable cause.

Earlier in the year, the Department of Public Safety also issued a public statement cautioning of the potential financial fallout associated with replacing K9’s. According to the Department, the Cannabis Regulation Act’s passing means that law enforcement will likely lose tens of thousands of dollars per dog. 

“Once the new canines are trained, the handlers will have the option of retiring their current assigned canine to their home, or we will look at other options to the likes of donating them to other law enforcement entities outside of the state of New Mexico who have yet to legalize [cannabis],” reads an excerpt from the Department.

In fact, estimates outlined in a fiscal report suggest that the replacement of New Mexico State Police’s nine dogs could cost around $194,000.

About drug sniffing police dogs

American bomb dogs began detecting German mines in North Africa as far back as the 1940s. Three decades later, in 1971, dogs were being trained in the U.S. to identify illegal narcotics, such as cocaine, cannabis and heroin, as well as to detect explosives.

Dogs are trained to carry out such tasks due to their acute sense of smell. Canines are believed to have around 200 million sensitive cells inside their nasal cavities; comparatively, humans have around five million cells in their noses. What’s more, a special organ is concealed inside the roof of a dog’s mouth that helps it to “taste” smells.

So effective are canine drug detectors that they are often relied on to sniff out hazardous substances and illegal drugs in ports, bus stations, border crossings and airports around the world.