DECATUR, Ill. — Officials with the Decatur Police Department told reporters that their drug-sniffing police dogs may be put to sleep if Illinois legalizes recreational marijuana, according to The Chicago Tribune.
Macon County Sheriff Howard Buffett told The Pantagraph that the police dogs may have to be euthanized if marijuana was legal because retraining them would be too expensive. He added that the move would help drug dealers and serve as a backward step for police officers.
Detective Chad Larner, who is a K-9 training director, also said that retraining wasn't possible and would amount to animal abuse, claiming that the animals would need to be put down. He also made the false statement that the dogs are trained not to be socialized and therefore would have to be euthanized.
Decatur Police Chief James Getz Jr. was forced to walk-back Larner's comments after experts questioned the statements. Getz said that Larner had used a bad choice of words and that police dogs are trained to sniff several drugs including marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin.
Retired Police Dogs Live Life of Leisure
Brian Dowdy trains narcotic sniffing dogs for the state and said that the normal routine for a retired police dog after 6 to 8 years on the job is to live a life of leisure with their handler, adding that there would be no reason to say the dogs would be euthanized except as a way to coerce people's votes if a referendum ends up on the November ballot.
Officer Elias Mendiola also said that retired police dogs in Illinois normally live with their handlers and rebuked the idea that they would be euthanized just because they were retired.
Mendiola said that the dogs are trained to sniff out not only marijuana, but also cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, and crystal methamphetamine, adding that when a dog indicates the presence of narcotics, they can't specify which drug is present.
Cara Smith from the Cook County Sheriff's Department said that legalizing marijuana wouldn't affect the 14 police dogs currently with the Department because they are trained for multiple duties including finding narcotics, tracking suspects, finding evidence, and catching people trying to get away from an officer.
Two of the dogs with the Department are bloodhounds trained to find missing people and detect bombs. Dog training for the police unit costs between $3000 and $ 16,000 depending on the type of training needed and takes approximately 8 to 16 weeks.
Larner did contradict himself to the local reporter when he said that the majority of the police dogs are "dual-purpose" and have been trained on both detecting narcotics and people. Larner was speaking of the 275 certified narcotics dogs when he affirmed that the dogs were dually trained.
Macon County Sheriff Howard Buffett implied that the dogs couldn't be utilized on the job any longer if pot was legal when he said that it would cost millions to replace the police dog units.
Buffett has a private foundation that spent $2.2 million to train police dogs in the state and also happens to be the son of billionaire Warren Buffett. His suggestion that the dogs would need replacing when experts say that they would not is suspect.
The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association are both against legalizing recreational marijuana in the state, but they could be fighting a losing battle.
A pilot medical marijuana program was started in the state in 2015, and Cook County strongly supports marijuana legalization with 68 percent of voters saying they supported legalizing recreational marijuana. Polls also show that 61 percent of Americans support legalizing recreational marijuana.