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Legalization of marijuana creates drug-sniffing issue in Colorado

Drug-sniffing dogs have always been considered to be an incredibly useful tool in the war on drugs not only because they alert officers to hidden caches of illegal substances but because they also give officers the probable cause they need to obtain a search warrant and investigate further.

Although there have been some cases that have reigned in the use of drug-sniffing dogs, an example would be the case of Jardines v. Florida, law enforcement agencies across the nation have continued to rely on these dogs to help them catch alleged criminals. But when marijuana became legal here in Colorado and in other states such as Washington and soon to be Alaska and Oregon, a unique legal situation was immediately created that many people the nation over are now starting to realize: how will the use of drug-sniffing dogs be impacted by the legalization of the drug?

It's not a question most people think about. But if you've been subjected to a police search here in Colorado because a drug-sniffing dog alerted to the presence of drugs even though the amount of marijuana in your possession was within the legal limits, you may have felt as if your Fourth Amendment right was violated. Here in lies the problem, says a January 15th Forbes article.

Because most -- if not all -- drug-sniffing dogs are not trained to alert differently for each drug, police have no idea what drug they are searching for until they find it. This was fine when all drugs were illegal; but here in Colorado and a few other states, this isn't the case anymore. How does an officer know which drug their dog has alerted them to? Is it cocaine or methamphetamines, which are still illegal in all states or is it marijuana, which is legal to carry in public if it's under an ounce?

Though the question we posed above may not be one most residents think about on a regular basis, it is one that police and prosecutors alike should consider from now on. A Fourth Amendment violation, as we have seen in other cases, can lead to dismissed evidence or cases along with civil litigation as well.

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