Crime and Law

Legalization of hemp & CBD products changing K-9 narcotics officer training

PUTNAM COUNTY, Fla. — Action News Jax investigates how changes in Florida law are impacting your rights, and an officer’s ability to arrest criminals.

Action News Jax found the legalization of hemp and CBD products is changing the way police K-9's are trained.

Aries is a drug K-9 with the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office. Our cameras saw him quickly find hidden narcotics in a vehicle during a drill.

“We had two hides on the vehicle,” PCSO Master Sergeant Randall Hayes said. “One hide was cannabis, one hide was powdered cocaine.”

Hayes knows Aries is among the last of his kind.

“In the future, we plan on doing a little bit different as far as training is concerned, to where the dogs will not be trained with a marijuana or cannabis detection,” said PCSO Major Steve Rose.

Most K-9′s, unless they’re young, cannot be re-trained.

With changes in CBD and hemp laws, agencies are no longer training K-9s to detect THC, the chemical responsible for most of marijuana's psychological effects.

Deputies tell Action News Jax they worry about scenarios like this one: Imagine a suspect has a stolen gun in a car. Often, an officer will first detect a drug, like marijuana, which allows them to search the car. With K-9s no longer trained to detect marijuana, other crimes may go undiscovered.

“Is it accurate to say that our area K-9s can’t tell the difference between CBD and hemp and actual marijuana, which is illegal?” Action News Jax Reporter Russell Colburn asked.

“There are different versions,” Rose said. “If there is an odor, and if there is an odor of THC, then of course the dog is going to alert. So, that's the reason why we have instructed our personnel to ask those additional questions regarding what it is that they have in their possession.” Agencies are also equipping law enforcement with test kits to figure out what a substance is before an arrest is made.

Both are added steps in an investigation, where every second can be critical for an officer's safety. The St. Johns County Sheriff's Office tells Action News Jax it is using the kits and has purchased three new dogs.

When you consider the breeding and training needed, that can be tens of thousands taxpayer dollars spent.

Action News Jax also received these responses from other area agencies:

  • Nassau County Sheriff: “We haven’t deployed any new K-9′s as of yet, and as I stated before, there is more information needed other than just a smell.”
  • JSO: “The scenario you describe below would not come into play as it relates to our K-9s. They are not utilized to detect or ‘sniff’ individuals.”
  • Baker County Sheriff’s Office: “We are continuing to require more than a K-9 alert alone as probable cause to search a vehicle (Additional indicators collected during traffic stop). This has not affected us greatly at BCSO as the vast majority of our K-9 deployments are patrol-related as opposed to narcotics detection.”

Action News Jax is still awaiting a response from the Clay County Sheriff’s Office.