Future of police K9’s mulled as Virginia considers decriminalizing marijuana

RICHMOND, Va. – There’s movement among democratic state representatives to decriminalize possession of marijuana.

“Any marijuana charge in Virginia, misdemeanor or felony, will follow a person for a lifetime. It is not an expugnable crime, and it really has collateral consequences,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, development director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

But one consequence from the counter-argument says decriminalization would cut back on the effectiveness of today’s drug dogs.

“You can’t swear a dog in and have the dog testify as to what he smelled,” said Dana Schrad, Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police executive director.

“If one of those substances he was trained to detect is no longer considered a criminal offense, then his detection of a quantity of marijuana --when there might be other drugs involved--then that makes that dogs', sort of, detection unusable in court," said Schrad.

Now, the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police says the cost for a dog could be between $50,000 and $60,000, and they say that fluctuates based on startup needs for training and handler necessities.

“And also gets them housed and fed. the cost varies. In some cases, they get dogs donated, but if you’re looking for a specific type of dog that you want a pure bread dog that’s really very adept at detecting substances, and then you want to go through the professional training--you go through the FBI or through one of the training centers -- it gets very expensive," said Schrad.

If decriminalization becomes a reality, Schrad says there are places where today’s K9s could be used, like schools and jails.