GADSDEN, Ala. (WHNT) - Etowah County investigators seized nearly 100 pounds of marijuana during two arrests Wednesday. Thursday, they showed it off.
Sheriff Todd Entrekin says it is the result of a three-week investigation which resulted in the seizure of more than 120 pounds of marijuana with a street value of about $250,000.
"People don't think we have a problem with marijuana, look right here, look at this, it's imported. It's not homegrown marijuana, it comes across the borders," Entrekin said.
"People think that marijuana ought to be legal? How are you going to control it? There's no way it can ever be a legal drug. There's no way, looking at stuff right there," he said.
Commander Rob Savage said within the hour, they found a dozen more in another car.
"What surprised us is that in one case, it was laying in a trash bag on the back seat of a truck, and in another it was in a series of grocery bags in a trunk," Savage said.
"It was not in a hidden compartment. It was pretty casual."
Deputies arrested the drivers of the vehicles, 22-year-old Hunter Epps Waters of Trussville, and 36-year-old Hernandez Soto, who lives in Birmingham.
They are charged with marijuana trafficking, and investigators are working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to determine Soto's immigration status.
"He has already indicated that he was born in Mexico and was originally a Mexican national. He is the source. He is not a middleman. Had we not made his arrest yesterday we would not be standing here. That brought this case to a conclusion," Savage said.
Savage described the two as business partners and said Soto was in possession of approximately 50 pounds of marijuana and Waters had approximately 45 pounds.
"What we see is a very clear trend that the majority of narcotics that comes into the state of Alabama, and particularly this region of Alabama, it traces back to crossing the border into Mexico," Savage said.
"That's true whether we're talking about methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana, or even now the growing resurgence of heroin. What we have seen over a period of time is when we get to this level, we are almost without exception, dealing with Mexican nationals."
District attorney Jimmie Harp said other drugs are more serious but described marijuana as a gateway drug that is causing trouble with the county's young adults.
"These bricks of marijuana that you see here were going to end up with our kids, and we get 15 to 20 complaints every week of marijuana use amongst our high school kids and our young adults and it's causing them to fail when they would normally succeed," Harp said.
"It's causing them to not reach the goals that their parents have had for their lives, and I'm very happy to see this taken off the streets," he said.
A third suspect had about 15 pounds of marijuana, and his case will go to a Grand Jury.
"I hope that this puts a stop to a lot of our marijuana trafficking and dealing in Etowah County," Sheriff Entrekin said.