Louisa K9 unit adapting to changing marijuana laws

Updated: Jun. 5, 2021 at 8:37 PM EDT
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LOUISA COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - Marijuana will soon be legal for Virginians ages 21 and older. As different police and sheriff departments prepare for the change, so do their K9 units.

Louisa County’s Sheriff’s Office trains several different kinds of K9s, including “patrol narcotics” dogs specially trained sniff and spot illegal drugs. Come July 1, some patrol narcotics dogs trained to find marijuana may be out of a job.

In Louisa, those dogs will no longer be able to search for drugs.

“They will become single-purpose patrol dogs,” said Patrick Sheridan, a K9 officer with the office. “They will no longer be doing narcotics detection. They will be focusing on tracking and patrolling.”

Officer Sheridan said the change could put a strain on K9 units.

“We no longer have a tool in our toolbox where we can try to locate illegal narcotics,” he said. “When these dogs that we currently have in the patrol narcotics division retire, they will be replaced with multipurposed dogs for narcotics, but for now, those dogs will be used for tracking and patrol.”

Sheridan said some K9s will retire early, which could be costly.

“It’s a financial strain because they’re having to replace dogs and buy new dogs,” Sheridan said. “They’re having to send their handlers through training to certify new dogs. Taking that manpower off the streets, where they could be looking for illegal narcotics, because now they have to be in training, training new dogs.”

Unlike some, Louisa’s K9 unit will not have to say an early goodbye to any dogs. Some will join the ranks of the unit’s bloodhounds, who are specially trained to search for missing people.

Sheridan said as new dogs come in, they’ll be trained without marijuana imprints. Each dog will spend anywhere from five to eight years in the unit.

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