DECATUR — Police Chief Jim Getz says a Decatur police detective used a “bad choice of words” when he said legalizing marijuana could lead to some police dogs in Illinois being euthanized.
Detective Chad Larner, training director of the K-9 Training Academy in Macon County, said in a story originally published in the (Decatur) Herald & Review last month that police dogs could not be retrained and some may be put down when they were no longer able to work.
The remarks touched off a firestorm on social and national media this week after the story appeared Sunday in The Pantagraph. A columnist for The Washington Post referred to the argument as "bizarre."
“It was a bad choice of words, and it’s a statement (Larner) wishes he didn’t make,” Getz told the Tribune on Wednesday. “There are so many uses for these dogs. They are multipurpose dogs. ... We anticipate those dogs are going to work with us for a long, long time.”
Getz and Larner did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Legislation in the General Assembly would let adults over 21 possess up to 28 grams of marijuana. The Illinois Senate approved a Nov. 6 referendum on legalization.
Agencies spend thousands of dollars and take months to train their dogs to alert officers to the presence of marijuana, heroin, cocaine and other drugs. If people are allowed to carry and consume pot, experts say legal issues could arise if a dog’s search turns up both illicit drugs and marijuana.
In an interview for the original story, Larner told the Herald & Review that it would be impossible to guarantee that a retrained dog was not alerting officers to the smell of cannabis, and thus could subject innocent residents or motorists to unlawful search and seizures.
Both he and Macon County Sheriff Howard Buffett said police dogs that are trained to subdue suspects are not friendly or suited to be kept as pets.
“It’d be a shame if because of the legalization of marijuana, now (the dogs) would have to be rehomed, retired and some euthanized,” Larner said then.
Buffett, through his private foundation, paid $2.2 million in 2016 to support K-9 units in 33 Illinois counties. He said agencies would have to replace all of their dogs if recreational pot use were legalized, and described that possibility as “a giant step forward for drug dealers” that would hurt law enforcement and communities.
Buffett did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Tyler Hargis, head of the Central Illinois Cannabis Community, said he and some of the medical cannabis users in the Bloomington-based group were alarmed by Larner’s comments. He said he reached out to other law enforcement agencies and was told police dogs wouldn’t be euthanized if marijuana were legalized.
“It’s just a silly comment, and it sounds like from his perspective, it’s just a biased statement to try to demonize cannabis,” Hargis said.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect that comments made about euthanizing dogs should have only been attributed to Larner.