While prescription drugs are a growing problem in the state, he says, other drugs continue to demand attention of law enforcement — and take a toll on the state’s citizens, economy, and resources.

Marijuana sill is a major day-to-day problem, Nichols says.

“There’s just so much of it out there, and it’s a much different product than when I was in school. Back then, the average THC [the chemical that produces a high] level in marijuana was 3 percent to 7 percent; today, most of the marijuana we test has THC levels of 27 percent to 37 percent.

“Unfortunately, kids think it’s not that big a deal — it’s just a plant, one that’s been around a long time, one that’s been a part of the culture in movies, on TV, etc. ‘It’s not gonna hurt me,’ they say. They don’t realize that, with the higher THC levels, it’s much more dangerous today than it once was.”

It is “one of most abused drugs in entire world,” he says, “and it is a major gateway drug — the one where most people’s serious drug problems start. Probably 99 percent of all the drug users I’ve ever interviewed said their problems started from sitting around smoking a joint. Next thing, they’d moved on to meth, cocaine, or selling drugs to feed their habit.”

The sheer volume of marijuana traffic in Mississippi is “mind boggling, even for those of us in law enforcement,” Nichols says. “With Interstate highways criss-crossing the state, it’s an open door for Mexico and Canada, where most of the marijuana comes from — although we’re seeing more from California. Much of it is on the way to other states, but a lot of it stops here. At one used car lot in Jackson, Miss., we followed the money trail and ended up confiscating 4,000 pounds in just a short period.”

READ HERE: Mississippi drug threat assessment

Amounts vary from just a few pounds to several tons. “A Mississippi trooper stopped a car that had 2,000 pounds hidden in various places. We stopped a Corvette that had 100 pounds sitting on the floorboard. We confiscated the car and recently sold it for $44,000.

“In another operation, we caught a trucker who was hauling marijuana from Texas, through Mississippi, to Georgia. We got him to cooperate with us and worked with Georgia authorities to bring down that end of the operation. We ended up getting a lot of dope, $280,000 in cash, and arrested 14-15 Hispanic males who were in the country illegally.”

Marijuana out of northern California, Nichols says, can bring as much as $3,800 a pound in Mississippi. “There is one gram of marijuana in a typical cigarette; 454 grams in a pound. That’s a lot of joints. With tons of it coming in, you can’t help but wonder who’s smoking all this stuff? The Drug Enforcement Administration says that for every arrest we make, 19 others aren’t caught.

 “We knock off UPS, FedEx, and Postal Service packages almost every day. It’s not their fault — they cooperate fully and allow us to come in with dogs and check their facilities. We’ll usually then pose as delivery persons to make arrests."