On The Lookout: Sniffing Out Cost Of Legalization For K9 Units - 47 ABC - Delmarva's Choice

On The Lookout: Sniffing Out Cost Of Legalization For K9 Units

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WICOMICO CO., Md. - Norby's nose knows illegal drugs as his job as a K9 dog is to sniff out five seperate illegal odors, including marijuana.

His handler deputy first class David Crowell explains that his Belgian Shepherd Malinois will give him several behavior changes when sniffing illegal substances.

"He'll give me a final response, which means he's as close to the odor, including marijuana by giving me a sit," said Crowell.

Norby's one of eight K9 officers used by the Wicomico County sheriff's office that could become obsolete. Sheriff Mike Lewis says the law may force them to buy new dogs.

"You can't detrain them to alert for marijuana," said Lewis. "They're going to smell marijuana. It will easily go into the millions of dollars to train a whole new generation of K9 dogs and handlers to not alert on the presence of marijuana."

Lewis tells WMDT that the county has the largest fleet on the Shore. By comparison, Salisbury Police have just one K9 unit. As does Fruitland Police. Over the bridge, 17 reside with Baltimore City Police and 40 dogs statewide for Maryland State Police. Each dog, Lewis says, costs between "$11,000 and $15,000 without training costs added."

"If in fact this legislation is passed, it will be catastrophic for the state of Maryland," said Lewis.

Sgt. David Owens of Wicomico Bureau of Investigation said it could affect traffic stops as well. If the law passes, Owens said if a driver is pulled over and the dog detects a legal amount of weed, but also finds a different illegal substance, like cocaine, then "[one could argue there] would be a potential defense suggesting the alert could have been on the marijuana."

Sara Love is an ACLU of Maryland advocate for legalization. When we posed the question about K9 dogs to her, she said it was the first time she heard the question asked and something ACLU and advocates will look into.

"The issue of the dogs, I'm not quite sure how that would work, whether it's re-training, whether it's a matter of if a dog finds marijuana, it's okay that's fine," said Love. "But it's still going to be against the law to distribute and traffic marijuana, so i cam foresee a situation where the dog is in the airport and they find a substantial amount of marijuana.

"That's still going to be illegal, so the dogs can still be used for that."

For now, the benefits outweigh the questions, says Love.
    
"We are wasting our precious law enforcement resources. We have a tremendous amount invested in law enforcement arresting individuals for minor amounts of marijuana," said Love.

Last year, there were 202 marijuana related arrests, up 32 percent from 2012 in Wicomico County.

A number of bills to legalize marijuana are on the table this year in Maryland. Currently, there are 11. One plans to fix up Maryland's current medical marijuana laws. Another proposes ways to tax and regulate the drug with the possibility of allowing anyone 21 or over to posses up to an ounce of marijuana.

A number of those proposals will be discussed on February 25 in Annapolis.

As for current Maryland laws, if someone is in possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana, they could face up to 90 days in jail and up to $500 in fines. With more than 10 grams, it the sentence increase with up a year behind bars and up to $1,000 in fines.

Last year, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) signed a bill to establish a hospital-based medical marijuana research program. But that system will not take effect until at least 2015.

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