Colorado: The Scent of Weed is NOT Sufficient Reason for Vehicle Search


Kilo is the catchy name of Moffat County, Colorado’s now infamous drug-sniffing dog. Trained to sniff out cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, methamphetamine, and marijuana, Kilo can’t tell cops which drug he’s sniffed out.

Now, thanks to a job “well-done,” Kilo is staring an early retirement in the face — because of Kilo, the scent of legal weed in Colorado no longer warrants a car search.

A scapegoat for his fellow dog sniffers or a consequence of legalization, Kilo’s case and inability to enunciate just set a landmark precedent for drug searches in Colorado.

In February 2015, Kilo sniffed out contraband in Colorado resident Kevin McKnight’s truck. Kilo’s senses went off, he alerted police officer Bryan Gonzales of the contraband, and a search of the truck turned up a “pipe containing white residue from McKnight’s truck.”

The 48-year-old McKnight — pulled over after a “wrong-turn” coming from a suspected drug house — was then charged with “possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of a controlled substance.” McKnight’s attorney motioned to suppress the search for lack of probable cause, but the initial judge decided the drug-sniffing evidence was permissible.

Last Thursday, the case came before the Colorado Court of Appeals’ three-judge panel, which decided that the search did in fact lack probable cause because “the dog could not tell officers what he was sniffing.”

The case’s presiding judge, Daniel Dailey, wrote that,

“Because Amendment 64 legalized possession for personal use of one ounce or less of marijuana by persons 21 years of age or older in Colorado, it is no longer accurate to say, at least as a matter of state law, that an alert by a dog which can detect marijuana — but not specific amounts — can reveal only the presence of ‘contraband.’”

Since Kilo couldn’t actually tell the cops which substance he was alerted to, the dog’s senses could’ve very well been alerted to legal cannabis and not methamphetamine. That possibility alone makes the car search illegal.

The court concluded that,

“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. 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’ for purposes of (the amendment) where the occupants are 21 years or older.”

Judge Michael Berger wrote that Colorado’s legalization bill, Amendment 64, allows Coloradans “an enforceable expectation of privacy.” That privacy now prohibits drug dogs trained to sniff out weed turning the scent of contraband into permissible court evidence.

The solution to avoid this kind of mix up for Colorado could be a simple one: stop training dogs to sniff out weed in the first place. Both Oregon and Vermont have stopped training dogs to bark at cannabis for the exact same reason.

While varying from county to county, Denver still has four cannabis-sniffing dogs on its staff; those K-9s are employed to sniff out illegal grows in the city. After this recent hearing, however, perhaps these dogs, and all Colorado dogs like Kilo, have dissolved into obsolete antiques of cannabis legalization.

The entire court document on this case can be found here.

In 2015, a landmark Supreme Court ruling found that cops can’t legally wait for drug dogs at standard traffic stops.

Image courtesy of potdogsusa

About Author

Barry has been writing about marijuana for over five years. Prior to joining, Barry wrote about sports and music. His work has appeared on TIME, The Huffington Post, Deadspin, and elsewhere on the Internet. In his spare time, he enjoys disco and Kosher Kush.

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