DECATUR — Police Chief Jim Getz says a Decatur police detective used a “bad choice of words” when he said legalizing marijuana could cause some police dogs in Illinois to the euthanized.
Detective Chad Larner, training director of the K-9 Training Academy in Macon County, said in a story originally published in the Herald & Review last month that police dogs could not be retrained and some may be put down when they were no longer able to work.
The remarks touched off a firestorm on social and national media this week after the story appeared in The (Bloomington) Pantagraph on Sunday. A columnist for The Washington Post took the suggestion to task, referring to the argument as “bizarre.” Snopes, the popular fact-checking website, called out the claim as “false.” And the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday published a story in which local and national experts dismissed the idea — as did Getz.
“It was a bad choice of words, and it’s a statement (Larner) wishes he didn’t make,” Getz told the Tribune on Wednesday. “There are so many uses for these dogs. They are multipurpose dogs. ... We anticipate those dogs are going to work with us for a long, long time.”
Getz and Larner did not respond to requests for comment from the Herald & Review on Wednesday afternoon.
Legislation in the General Assembly would let adults older than 21 possess up to 28 grams of marijuana. The Illinois Senate approved a bill that would place a question about legalization on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Agencies spend thousands of dollars and take months to train their dogs to alert officers to the presence of marijuana, heroin, cocaine and other drugs. If people are allowed to carry and consume pot, experts say legal issues could arise if a dog’s search turns up both illicit drugs and marijuana. Dogs trained to detect multiple drug scents can’t communicate to handlers which of the smells triggered them to alert.
In Colorado, an appeals court overturned the conviction of a man found with a meth pipe because cannabis was also present in the car. Prosecutors couldn’t prove that the dog’s alert, and the subsequent search, were triggered by the illegal item.
In an interview for the original story, Larner told the Herald & Review that it would be impossible to guarantee that a retrained dog was not alerting officers to the smell of cannabis, and thus could subject innocent residents or motorists to unlawful search and seizures. Both he and Macon County Sheriff Howard Buffett, who was also part of the interview, said police dogs that are trained to subdue suspects are not friendly or typically suited to be kept as pets.
“Unfortunately, what that means for some is euthanization,” Larner said. Handlers might not have adequate housing to handle multiple dogs, and it is very difficult to rehome police dogs.
“It’d be like taking a track or cross country runner and telling them, ‘guess what, you have to play golf now. Or all you’re allowed to do now is walk.’ I mean, the emotional side-effects could be profound,” Larner continued. “... It’d be a shame if because of the legalization of marijuana, now (the dogs) would have to be rehomed, retired and some euthanized.”
Buffett, through his private foundation, paid $2.2 million in 2016 to support K-9 units in 33 counties across Illinois. He said agencies would have to replace all of their dogs if recreational pot use were legal, and described that possibility as “a giant step forward for drug dealers” that would hurt law enforcement and communities.
Buffett did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Tyler Hargis, head of the Central Illinois Cannabis Community, said he and some of the medical cannabis users in the Bloomington-based group were alarmed by Larner’s comments.
Hargis said he reached out to other law enforcement agencies and was told that police dogs wouldn’t be euthanized if marijuana were legalized. There are other options, he said, including having them focus on different tasks, retraining them, or retiring them to live with their handlers.
“It’s just a silly comment, and it sounds like from his perspective, it’s just a biased statement to try to demonize cannabis,” Hargis said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Ryan Voyles and Jaylyn Cook of the Herald & Review contributed to this story.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect that comments made about euthanizing dogs should have only been attributed to Larner.