Police dogs' futures uncertain as weed becomes legal in Michigan

With recreational pot being legal in Michigan now, K9 officers are having to learn new tricks when it comes to searching for drugs - but some also may be hanging up their collars for good.

"New dogs [that] are being trained, a lot of departments are not training them for marijuana. Dogs that already do detect marijuana, some of them are being phased out of service," John Peters, an attorney, told us. He's an expert in how the law applies to police dogs. 

He says the change may be most noticeable first at the state police level. 

In light of Prop 1 passing, Michigan State Police has elected to no longer use marijuana sniffing dogs during a roadside search as the sole reason to search a car, as it was before pot was legal.

"If it detected marijuana or something illegal inside the vehicle then you can search it, you had probable cause. Now you won't be able to do that," says MSP First Lt. Michael Shaw. 

"Those are policy or agency decisions, not legal decisions," Peters added. 

So it doesn't mean MSP has any plans on phasing out police dogs altogether.

"All 55 of our canines are cross trained in different things so we can still use them for that aspect of police work," Shaw said. 

If anything, dog training will focus on detecting other narcotics. But there is some concern that not using pot sniffing dogs could give criminals an advantage. 

"People are sometimes moving much larger amounts of marijuana than are legal to begin with, or using marijuana to screen the odor other narcotics," Peters said. 

Agencies like Troy Police Department say they have no plans to retire its three canine officers. Allen Park and Westland are taking a wait-and-see approach, letting Supreme Court battles in California, Oregon and Colorado play out before making any decisions. 

"The court in Colorado has defaulted to the position that if a dog alerts, it's a probability that the dog is alerting to a legal amount of marijuana. I think that's quite a leap in legal logic," Peters said.

Peters says the government stands to make a lot of tax money in the future with legal weed, and argues that may be why they are encouraging police to scale back efforts of marijuana detection.