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Kenosha News editorial: Job loss, forced retirement turn into a dog-gone shame
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Kenosha News editorial: Job loss, forced retirement turn into a dog-gone shame

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This is a sad tail, but a familiar one: Job loss, forced early retirement, no longer able to keep up with employment requirements.

Yes, we meant tail. The tails are no longer wagging in Virginia, where the legalization of marijuana on July 1 is putting an end to the careers of 13 K-9 marijuana sniffing dogs.

At the beginning of the pandemic the legal cannabis industry was disrupted but by the end of 2020 the industry saw record sales of $17.5 billion. Veuer’s Johana Restrepo has more.

Apollo, Airies, Bandit, Blaze, Jax, Kane, Mater, Nina, Reno, Sarge, Thunder, Zeus and Zoey are all getting pink-slipped and sent out to pasture — all of them to retire to the homes of their handlers. Their services are no longer needed and they lack the job skills for today’s market.

Sorry, there will be no effort to retrain them with new job skills — like sniffing out methamphetamine, ecstasy, heroin and cocaine.

“A dog is not like us. We can’t just tell it to ignore this odor of marijuana anymore,” said Sgt. Scott Amos, Virginia State Police’s training coordinator. “With the legalization of marijuana, we didn’t want to subject anyone to an illegal search.”

We can attest to that. We know of a duck hunter in Eau Claire whose black lab was trained, after a wet retrieve, to promptly go to the far end of the boat and “shake”. The simple command kept hunter and gear from being splattered with marsh.

He made the mistake of leaving his dog with his brother for a week and when he returned, his brother said, “Watch this,” and turned to the dog and said, “Shake.” The dog promptly raised its right paw and looked for a treat. The hunter had a wet boat after that and was not pleased.

Dogs trained on multiple drugs alert in the same way for all of them, so it’s impossible to tell whether they are indicating the presence of a small, legal amount of marijuana or a larger amount that will still be illegal in Virginia.

That shoots a large hole in police being able to establish probable cause for a full search based on a K-9 alert. The Virginia State Police will have to replace its dog force with 13 new dogs trained to ferret out still-illegal drugs. But some smaller departments are dropping their K-9 units because they can’t afford the $15,000 cost of acquiring and training each dog.

The forced K-9 retirements are happening across the country as more and more states legalize possession of small amounts of the drug for medical and recreational uses. Medical marijuana is now legal in 36 states and recreational use is allowed in 17 states, while 13 others have decriminalized its use.

“The trend is everywhere,” said Don Slavik, executive director of the United States Canine Association. “Once you train a behavior in a dog, that never goes away. They don’t want any mistakes, so that is why they want to bring in new dogs.”

Wisconsin, however, has resisted the urge to join the pack and, at least for now, K-9 sniffing marijuana dogs still have some job security. While the public has yapped for legalization of recreational marijuana — 59 percent of Wisconsinites support it, according to a 2019 Marquette University poll — the big dogs in the GOP-controlled state Legislature have so far brought legalization efforts to heel.

Last month, the GOP-led Joint Finance Committee stripped Gov. Tony Evers’ budget proposal to establish an adult-use cannabis market that would have allowed state residents to possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana for personal use and would have raised an estimated $165 million in tax revenues.

For now, at least, that dog doesn’t hunt and Wisconsin’s K-9 detectives will stay on the employment rolls.

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