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Nothing to sniff at: Bill would help pay to retire Ohio drug-detecting K9s under legal cannabis

WHITEHALL, Ohio (AP) — Two Ohio lawmakers are looking to ease a looming financial burden on law enforcement agencies in their state that will have to replace marijuana-sniffing dogs after voters approved a plan last year to legalize recreational marijuana use.

Nearly 400 police dogs in Ohio trained in the detection of marijuana will need to be retired because they cannot be reliably retrained. That means any alert they give to the presence of drugs could be challenged in court because they cannot unlearn the smell of cannabis.

State Rep. Sean Brennan, a Democrat from Parma, called that an “unintended consequence” of the decision by Ohio voters in November to legalize recreational use.

Brennan and Rep. Josh Williams, R-Sylvania, are the lead sponsors of a bill that would provide each agency with up to $20,000 per dog to offset the cost of acquiring, training and equipping narcotics dogs that don’t alert to the smell of marijuana.

“I don’t think that anybody that voted for the issue, either intended or knew that this was even going to be a problem for our police departments, and it’s a real concern," Brennan said.

He noted that acquiring the dogs and training them is a major expense.

“The fact that we’re now going to need 300 canines, like overnight in Ohio, the demand for dogs and for training is going to be at a premium," he added.

Whitehall Police Officer Matthew Perez, a trained dog handler who serves with his canine partner Rico, said the measure would greatly help communities such as his.

“These dogs can range (in price) from $7,500 to $11,000, and some places might sell them more,” Perez said.

He encouraged support for the bill.

“I think the (grant money) would be super beneficial for some departments that may not have as much money or profit coming in, you know, and they’re needing a dog, or they’re wanting a dog and they’re wanting to continue that program,” he said.

Whitehall Police Deputy Chief Dan Kelso said the dogs on staff live with their handlers and the handlers will be able to buy the dogs from the city for $1 when they’re retired.

Under the referendum approved by voters, adults in Ohio can legally legally grow and possess cannabis at home. However, they cannot legally buy it yet since the state legislature and state regulators are still debating exactly how the new rules will be phased in. A hearing on that plan was held Thursday, but it's not clear when a final decision will come.

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Shipkowski reported from Toms River, New Jersey.