NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Keeda Haynes is a public defender, but her journey to that didn’t happen overnight.

“When I was young, when I was in my 20s, a guy that I was dating had asked me if I would accept packages for him,” Haynes said. “He told me they contained cell phones and pagers. It turned out none of the packages contained cell phones and pagers. They all contained marijuana.”

Haynes and 29 others were indicted on various charges in 2002. She was acquitted of six charges but found guilty on one – aiding and abetting a conspiracy.

“At my sentencing, the judge told me that someone of my intelligence should have known that I was dealing with something highly illegal, (and) I was lucky to be acquitted of the other charges,” Haynes said. “She sentenced me to seven years in federal prison.”

She ended up spending about four years total in prison and studied for the LSAT during that time, and Haynes isn’t alone.

In 2020, possession of marijuana, a non-violent crime, resulted in over 14,000 arrests here in Tennessee, and that number was lower than usual because of COVID-19.

“We spend a lot of resources and a lot of taxpayer money on drugs and marijuana, and those things are important,” Frederick Agee, District Attorney General for the 28th Judicial District, said. “But, they’re not as important as violent crime.”

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It’s been a topic of interest, particularly lately with prison overcrowding and the backlog of rape kits coming to light.

“If I was King for the day, we would test every rape kit in the state of Tennessee before we test anymore marijuana,” Agee said.

Now, Agee said he understands the people that process rape kits are different from the ones that process cannabis. He just believes “we, as a state, should prioritize violent criminals over non-violent ones.“

“If you’ve got rape kits that are sitting around collecting dust, that means there’s violent perpetrators in our community,” he said. “We’ve just recently seen that happen with the Eliza Fletcher matter.”

Haynes said despite her conviction being non-violent, she still can’t own a gun in the state of Tennessee, and it took her years to get her voting rights back.

“I am still relegated as a second-class citizen,” she said. “I still have a scarlet ‘F’ on my chest.”

Furthermore, statistics show Black people are roughly four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis than white people.

“For Black people, it’s prisons for us,” Haynes said. “For white people, it’s profits for them.”

News 2 recognizes that not everyone is for cannabis legislation. Chris O’Brien has the other side, after speaking with two state representatives against recreational cannabis at this link.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, contact the National Drug Helpline at (844) 289-0879.