PCSO K-9 Unit

The Pinal County Sheriff's Office has had to make changes in its K-9 force because of the state's new marijuana law.

FLORENCE — Local and state law enforcement agencies are having to retire some of their drug-sniffing dogs early because of the state’s new marijuana law.

Arizona voters approved legalizing the use of marijuana for anyone over age 21 in November 2020. The law states that a person can possess an ounce of marijuana with no more than 5 grams of cannabis concentrates and grow up to six plants at their primary residence. The law also imposed a 16% excise tax on marijuana sales and allowed for those with past criminal records due to marijuana possession to request that the charges be expunged from their records.

A trained drug-sniffing police dog costs thousands of dollars, according to Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Bart Graves.

A DPS canine costs around $12,500 to purchase and requires an additional 12 weeks and $4,000 to $6,000 of training for both the dog and its handler, he said.

The department currently has 18 detection dogs that are trained to alert to the smell of marijuana, he said. The department has replaced eight of the dogs already and plans to replace the remaining 10.

“Some of the dogs are still performing their non-drug-detecting patrol duties while others have been retired from their responsibilities and have been adopted as family pets,” he said.

The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office is also making changes.

At the start of 2021, the office had four K-9 teams on the road and two K-9 teams in the jail, said PCSO spokeswoman Lauren Reimer. Three of the dogs that serve outside of the jail are trained to detect marijuana.

One of the dogs that serves outside of the jail, Nico, had to be put down in February after his health declined rapidly after several masses were found in his lungs and other organs.

Another dog, Troy, was retired, Reimer said. Troy was retired mainly due to his age and years of service, but changes in the state’s marijuana law was also a small factor.

A third dog, Oscar, will also be retiring, she said. Oscar is younger than Troy but “considering the legislative changes and the ability to purchase and train three replacements at once makes the most logical sense,” Reimer said.

The fourth dog, Indy, is the office’s newest recruit, she said. He was acquired in early 2020. The office anticipated the possible change in the law and did not have Indy trained to detect marijuana.

The two dogs that work the jail are both trained to sniff for marijuana and other drugs and will remain on active duty in the jail, where marijuana is still considered contraband, Reimer said.

Any future dogs the office purchases will not be trained to detect the drug, she said.

The Casa Grande Police Department was prepared for the change in the law, said department spokesman Thomas Anderson. The department has four canines and none of them is trained to detect marijuana.

The Maricopa Police Department has decided to retire K-9 Murphy in light of the recent passage of Proposition 207.

Murphy is trained to sniff out a variety of narcotics including methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin with his handler, Officer Jacob Gomez. However, he is also trained to sniff out the odor of marijuana — a now-legal product. Due to this issue, Maricopa Police have decided to retire the 10-year-old German shepherd after a decade of service to the force.

“We will be retiring K-9 Murphy; he is aging out anyway and ... with the change in the marijuana laws, that definitely plays a role in his retirement,” said Sgt. Hal Koozer, spokesman for MPD. “We will be purchasing a new dog in the next few months that has the appropriate training for the continued changes in our profession.”

Police Chief Jim Hughes said the department has acquired the necessary funds to retire the dog.

“We will continue to have only one K-9 handler for the immediate future,” Hughes added.

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Staff Writer Katie Sawyer contributed to this story.

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