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Pot law puts K9 cops out of business

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Due to recent changes in New Mexico law regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana, law enforcement departments around the state are having to retire some of their K9 canines.

According to acting Police Chief David Miranda with the Lovington Police Department, LPD retired and unknowingly ended their K9 program temporarily on Oct. 20, with all three of their canines being put out of commission — two from the legalization of recreational marijuana and one due to health reasons.

Nero, Vax and Legend were all K9s with LPD — Vax and Legend were narcotics dogs used to “hit on” vehicles, homes or wherever suspected narcotics were. Nero was the department’s explosives/bomb dog and was primarily responsible for “hitting on” anything considered to be an explosive.

Nero was retired to the care of his handler Sergeant James Hay; Vax was retired to the care of his handler Sergeant Preston Hitchcock; and Legend was retired to the care of his handler officer Gerado Castaneda. All dogs were adopted by their handlers.

According to Miranda, once a dog has been trained to alert to the presence of marijuana, the animal cannot be untrained.

“They were trained to detect marijuana as well as other illegal drugs, and now that marijuana is legal, you can’t untrain them to stop alerting on marijuana and just the other dogs,” Miranda said. “It is documented that you cannot retrain them to the point where it would be admissible in court. The defense could argue that the dog alerted to a legal substance, marijuana, which led to a search of the car, and the search would be deemed unlawful or inadmissible. Then it would throw out whatever was found afterward. That’s the reason it would be rendered obsolete.”

Miranda added the reason for retiring Nero was due to an issue with his digestive system and rather than keeping the dog on, the vet advised the dog to go into retirement.

Though it is sad for the department to see the program coming to such an abrupt halt, it is not the end of it, Miranda said.

“This is not the end of the K9 program with the Lovington Police Department,” Miranda stated. “The benefits of having a K9 program are well documented, the community loves it, it’s obviously beneficial to the (human) officer, so we will revisit it after a comprehensive cost analysis is done. It is true two out of these three dogs were donated by private individuals or businesses, but there is a reoccurring cost of having these dogs. Fuel costs, food and vet bills. Think about it, these dogs have to be in a running unit during a full 12-hour shift, and that ventilation has to be going in the unit for the 12-hour shift.”

Police dogs are very much the same as a human officer in the eyes of the law and assaulting a canine carries the same penalty as it does for assaulting a human officer.

“Some people may not know but under the eyes of the law, K9s are considered to be peace officers just the same as a human officer,” Miranda stated. “Over the past five years, Nero, Vax and Legend have made enormous contributions to the public safety of the citizens of Lovington and have protected their handlers Sergeant James Hay, Sergeant Preston Hitchcock and Officer Gerardo Castaneda.”

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