Drug-Sniffing Dogs and Cannabis

It all started with a Moffet County drug-sniffing dog named Kilo. In 2015, Kilo alerted his human officers to the presence of an illegal drug in a truck driven by one Kevin McKnight. But Kilo (who is, by all reports, a very good boy) was trained to detect cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, meth, and marijuana. He was not trained to differentiate between the substances, and thus was not able to “tell” officers, whether he sniffed an illegal drug or cannabis, which is legal. The ensuing search by officers revealed a meth pipe, and McKnight was later convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia.

But McKnight and his lawyers protested. There was no reason, they argued, for his truck to be searched as McKnight gave no indication of doing anything illegal or being impaired. The case ended up last week before the Colorado Court of Appeals, and the three-judge panel agreed with McKnight. “The police lacked the requisite reasonable suspicion to subject McKnight’s truck to a dog sniff,” one of the judges wrote.

“A dog sniff could result in an alert with respect to something for which, under Colorado law, a person has a legitimate expectation of privacy,” judges wrote in the ruling. “Because a dog sniff of a vehicle could infringe upon a legitimate expectation of privacy solely under state law, that dog sniff should now be considered a ‘search’ … where the occupants are 21 years or older.”

The judges’ decision reverses McKnight’s conviction.

Be advised, though, it’s still dangerous to consume cannabis while you’re driving, and not only because it’s unsafe to drive impaired. In 2016, The Colorado Supreme court ruled that dog’s smell test can “contribute” to a probable cause determination if the suspect is doing something else to raise suspicion. And “raising suspicion” is kind of vague. So be careful out there, and remember that while you are safe to transport cannabis in your car, smoking in your car is not a good idea.