Those fabulous noses can sniff illicit cannabis, maybe even in the parts per trillion
The intention behind the question is simple: people want to know the risks of travelling across the Canada-U.S. border with edibles.
The anecdotal evidence, personal border crossing stories and pseudo legal advice offered tend to be largely inconclusive and speculative, with responses falling mainly into two categories: probably and probably not. Some think drug-sniffing dogs would have little trouble detecting cannabis within edibles; others contend cannabis undergoes chemical changes when baked into edibles, making it tougher for the dogs to detect.
Do edibles have a distinctive smell?
But the Canada Border Services Agency’s (CBSA) Dog Detector Service (DDS) teams, which are strategically located at various ports of entry across Canada, means there still remains a risk of being sniffed out by a dog at the border.
Edibles do, in fact, smell distinctly different from the plant and have an altered chemical composition. Todd Knupp, extraction specialist at Colorado’s University of Cannabis Technologies, says most commercially made edibles use a standardized extract of THC that does not typically include terpenes, the fragrant compounds that give cannabis its aroma. “It’s not that the odour of THC in edibles is undetectable, it’s just a matter of how thoroughly the dog was trained to pick up on the scent,” Knupp says.
Master trainer Sid Murray of ATS K9 Detection Services says that dogs can be trained to detect the scent of cannabis in any form. “The dogs can hit on edibles, oils and sprays as well as paraphernalia such as pipes, pens, bottles, and residual odours,” Murray says, pointing out that dogs have a sense of smell of as much as 100,000 times more powerful than humans.
But certain super sniffer breeds, such as bloodhounds and beagles, are able to detect some odours at one part per trillion (ppt).
Do border service still employ drug-sniffing dogs?
While drug-sniffing dogs may be capable of detecting that packed-away cannabis in edibles, are CBSA detector dogs actively sniffing them out? Judith Gadbois-St.-Cyr, the CBSA’s Greater Toronto Area’s regional spokesperson, says the role of the DDS has always remained the same. “DDS plays an integral role in helping the CBSA keep prohibited drugs, including cannabis products, from entering Canada,” Gadbois-St.-Cyr says. “The ‘cannabis products’ drug category consists of dried and fresh cannabis, cannabis seeds, resin, solids, non-solids, concentrates and synthetic cannabis.”
The federal government has made it clear: not declaring cannabis products at the Canadian border is a serious criminal offence. If a traveller chooses not to declare cannabis products, he or she may face enforcement action, including arrest and prosecution.
Still thinking about packing a freshly baked batch of brownies on your next trip across the border? Think again. Edibles might not be detectable to fellow travellers, but not so for intrepid detector dogs.
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