OAKLAND, Jan 14 2002. BART announced that it has scrapped plants to deploy drug-sniffing dogs on its trains following a flood of protests from angry patrons and NORML supporters.
BART had deployed canine units on loan from US Customs to sniff out passengers for two nights in December. They succeeded in nabbing 12 passengers for misdemeanor marijuana possession and a 13th for petty pot dealing, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. No hard drugs were found in the searches.
In a letter to the BART Board, California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer denounced the searches as an “obnoxious invasion of personal privacy that will do nothing to enhance public safety.”
“No major narcotics traffic is to be found on BART,” he said, “the principal impact of these sweeps is to arrest harmless pot smokers.” He noted that the dogs failed to detect any “white powder” narcotics, only marijuana, as marijuana has a stronger scent.
“Marijuana is no threat to public safety,” said Gieringer, “Everyday, countless peaceable pot users ride BART to attend concerts, parties, and other events in the Bay Area. Better they should be riding BART than driving through traffic. This is a penny-ante crime creation program.”
NORML also expressed concern that BART is a major mode of transportation for medical marijuana patients. BART Police Lt. Howard said that BART’s policy was not to arrest legal Prop. 215 patients. However, NORML noted that the dogs were not reliable and were sniffing out innocent passengers. One patient reported that the passenger sitting next to him was erroneously searched apparently because the dogs smelled marijuana that he, the patient, had smoked at the station just previously. The patient himself was never searched.
BART Police said that the dog sweeps were part of a “training exercise” by newly arrived Customs canine squads bound for duty at the SFO Airport.