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TAZEWELL COUNTY (WVVA) — Police Departments across the Commonwealth are looking for a ‘new breed’ of K9 officers.

K9s Criss and Tina of the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office used to help the agency by sniffing out drugs like heroin, meth and marijuana.

But in the 2020 General Assembly session, legislators approved bills that decriminalize up to one ounce of weed.

That puts K9 officers imprinted on the scent of marijuana out of work.

“That dog is trained on those specific drugs and forevermore, when it smells marijuana, it’s gonna hit on that,” explained Tazewell County Sheriff Brian Hieatt.

Once a K9 is trained to ‘hit’ on marijuana, it cannot be trained to stop — and each ‘hit’ has the same ‘alert.’

“The dog has no discernment,” said Major Harold Heatley of the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office. “The dog doesn’t alert a specific way for a certain drug.”

That lack of discernment is concerning for law enforcement. Hieatt says the possession of other drugs could be questioned – and possibly thrown out – if marijuana is found alongside them.

“Because then the dog has hit on – and you’ve searched – a car for something that’s just a $25, $50 fine rather than an actual criminal, arrestable offense,” Hieatt said.

Hieatt also says you can’t take a certain drug off a dog’s radar. So now, the old K9s must be replaced witha new breed of detection dog trained to ignore the smell of marijuana – but it doesn’t put current K9s on the unemployment line.

Criss and Tina have found new homes at other police departments and the Sheriff’s Office is in the process of purchasing two new ones.

“Those K9s will be imprinted with only cocaine, methamphetamines and heroin,” Heatley explained. “Of course they’ll be dual-trained in patrol procedures which includes bite work, tracking and article finds.”

The department is purchasing the K9s next week — they’re expected to be working at the Sheriff’s Office by April.

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