No, drug-sniffing dogs can’t distinguish between marijuana and hemp

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In the rush to legalize hemp production across the country, states didn’t anticipate the effect it’d have on prosecuting marijuana convictions. Texas, Florida, and Ohio have struggled whether they accidentally decriminalized cannabis, as limited technology prohibits their ability to quickly and effectively identify between cannabis and hemp flower.

This is why various state and county prosecutors in these states have announced they’ll no longer pursue low-level marijuana possession cases.

But humans aren’t the only ones unable to differentiate between marijuana and hemp. Drug-sniffing dogs have also struggled to find their roles following the new laws. Not only are marijuana and hemp plants visually similar, they also produce comparable smells. This proves difficult for dogs, as they can’t distinguish between the two plants, eliminating the use of “probable cause” for extensive drug searches.

dog looking into camera

It turns out sniffer dogs cannot tell the difference between marijuana and hemp plants. Getty Images

As a result, the Ohio Highway Patrol and the Columbus Division of Police told the The Columbus Dispatch they are hereby suspending marijuana-detection training for drug-sniffing canines. This should eliminate any complications of “probable cause” for prosecutors pursuing drug convictions outside of marijuana.

But the problem still remains for current dogs, as police can’t train them to unlearn reacting to a drug once it’s become a developed behavior. Because these canines deliver the same reactions when detecting any drug—regardless if it’s cocaine or cannabis—Highway Patrol “are evaluating what impact the hemp legislation may have” on the 31 active narcotic-detection canines.

“It’s very problematic for probable cause,” Dan Sabol, a Columbus criminal-defense lawyer, told the Dispatch.

A similar pattern has evolved in New York, where state police revealed earlier this year they too have stopped training dogs to detect marijuana. They did so in anticipation of the state’s eventual decriminalization of marijuana in June. In states like Colorado and Oregon, legalization has forced these drug-sniffing canines to retire early. Maybe Fido can earn a CBD dog treat for all the good work he’s done.

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