Here’s a scenario: Let’s say police one night pull over a pickup truck, and let’s say that a narcotics dog almost immediately gives an alert that it smells drugs when it approaches the vehicle.
There’s a twist, though. In addition to being trained to sniff for methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and ecstasy, the dog is also trained to give the same alert when it smells marijuana — even though Colorado law doesn’t make possession of marijuana inherently criminal.
Now, here’s a question: Do police have enough evidence of a crime to search that truck?
For the six years since Colorado voters approved marijuana legalization, state and local law enforcement agencies have hedged on that question. Departments across the state have retired their not-that-old K-9s brought up to smell marijuana as a crime and replaced them with sprightly new dogs that are cool with cannabis. That makes the new dogs’ bark beyond reproach in drug cases.
But it’s never been settled law that this transition had to occur in the first place. On Wednesday, the Colorado Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether an alert from a marijuana-sniffing dog is alone enough to justify a search. In doing so, it will return to the bigger question the state’s highest court has visited time and again since 2012: What exactly did it mean for Colorado voters to “legalize” marijuana?