On one fateful date, Loriel Alegrete’s life changed forever. Her husband was sent to prison for cannabis-related charges along with a close family friend. Before she knew it, Loriel was basically a single mother. Left alone to raise three children, she had no way of knowing when her life would return to normal, and it truly never did. Upon her husband Anthony Alegrete’s release from prison, the couple’s lifelong friend Corvain Cooper was still in prison for life after a third strike for his participation in a cannabis distribution operation, even though cannabis was becoming legal all over the U.S.
This prompted Loriel and Anthony to create their company 40 Tons, a cannabis, clothing, and accessory brand based in Los Angeles whose mission is to help get the 40,000+ cannabis prisoners out of prison. Every 40 Tons purchase helps non-violent cannabis prisoners fight their unjust sentences, engage in restorative justice, and find full, equitable lives once they return home to their families.
Due to their hard work and the work of many others, in his final days as president, Donald Trump pardoned Corvain Cooper, and released him from his life sentence.
But their work is not over — it is just beginning. Loriel and her company fight every day for the release of other cannabis prisoners, and for the legalization of cannabis nationwide.
Emerald Media sat down with Loriel, CEO of 40 Tons, to talk about her company’s mission, her relationship with cannabis, and how everyone can help make a change in the cannabis industry.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Emerald Media (EM): You launched 40 Tons in 2020 — how has it grown since and where do you hope to see more growth?
Loriel Alegrete (LA): The company has grown tremendously. I am baffled by the response, all the opportunities that are on the table are still in the pipeline for us. It’s been a huge blessing to be able to either partner up or collaborate with these larger brands that believe in the story. The reception that we’ve received has been surreal.
As far as the future is concerned, [there’s] a lot of collaboration deals going on. We have a gummy line that’s going to launch soon with the company Ocean Grown Extracts, under the brand Evidence. They will be available in dispensaries across Southern California. So that is a huge opportunity for us.
Then we have a Delta-8 [THC] deal that is coming to fruition as well for us. There are also talks of movie deals, as well as other product collaborations, so there is a lot going on. I’ve been offered the opportunity to serve on an advisory board with Marijuana Matters DC. They’re aligned with some of our goals and aspirations with 40 Tons, so it was a no-brainer to serve. The future [is bright]. We’ve got book deals, Corvain Cooper is coming out with a three-series book in the very near future. He’s already written it since he had so much time in prison.
EM: Is there one that you’re the most excited about?
LA: Oh, they’re all so exciting, I don’t want to put one over the other. But I would say the Delta-8 [THC] deal excites me the most because that is fairly new to the market. And the way that it’s packaged, the way it’s presented, the way that one would consume it is just — it’s genius. It’s so simple. It comes in this little package, you rip it open and it’s like a little micro shot of Delta-8. It hits you in like 15 minutes. And you’re good — you can function, everything is great, you feel relaxed. [It’s also affordable].
EM: What is your relationship with cannabis outside of your business? Do you use it yourself? How long has cannabis been in your life?
LA: I’ve been around cannabis most of my life, whether it was family members using it or sick relatives using it. When I was younger, I didn’t understand what that was. I was just like, what is that smell? But it’s come full circle now and I know the healing properties of the plant.
I don’t necessarily use cannabis in the traditional sense of smoking; I usually do a micro-dose of edibles. That helps with how busy I am. I’m able to still function and not have this crash [afterward]. So if I do a micro-dose, I’m good. I can still keep all my balls in the air, so to speak, for this juggling act that I have going on.
EM: What kind of edibles do you use?
LA: I love chocolate. There is a really good chocolate espresso candy bar and it has lower levels of THC in it too. So I do that and then gummies.
EM: You are also going to nursing school, right? You do so much work with 40 Tons, why did you make the decision to also go to nursing school?
LA: This decision was always something that I was passionate about. It was just finding the time, and where it was going to fit into our already busy, hectic life. I’ve always had this feeling of helping people and this healing nature about me. I’m sort of like this mother hen if you will. Knowledge is power. So the more I have, the more powerful I could be, and [the more I can] share the message of how cannabis has these healing properties. [I hope to] be able to administer it if necessary for certain patients. So it was a no-brainer for me to do this simultaneously, nursing school and 40 Tons, because I’ve obviously had issues or dealt with people in my life that have gone to prison over cannabis. I felt it was just a good segue for me to be able to do both.
EM: What do you hope to do with your nursing degree once you get it? Where do you want to go from there?
LA: The sky’s the limit with that. I could travel the world, voicing my message of 40 Tons and what we’re all about, possibly speaking at conferences about cannabis, and just having that degree creates more credibility in the industry.
EM: How do you balance school and work? Do you have time for yourself?
LA: It’s been a good long journey and we still have so much more work to do. […] But I balance it with trying to keep a good schedule and trying to prioritize because it’s important.
There’s a lot of moving parts in my life. And so far I’m like an orchestra leader; I delegate tasks to people because I can’t do it all. It’s been working so far.
Anthony and I have been married for 20 years and have three children. I try to balance it all. But as far as self-care, I do try to take time for myself.
Even my kids will say, “oh mommy’s going away for the day, this is her Loriel time.” That’s what they call it and they totally respect it. There are no phone calls, there’s no texting, you fend for yourself, you’re on your own. And it works.
Just still trying to do that self-care, whether it’s just going to take a walk at the beach or going for a walk on a trail with the dog. You have to try to relax your mind so that you can gear up for the next race that’s coming up.
EM: Do you ever feel defeated? And what motivates you to just keep going every day?
LA: Yeah, sure there are times that I feel defeated. I also dig deep down in my inner core to find the strength to keep on going. Children are a huge inspiration for me. What you give to your children you’re going to get back out. I’m going to put as much into them as possible, that’s really important to me.
EM: The 40 Tons website states that the organization fights for releases or reduced sentencing. Why work toward reduced sentencing and not just toward release for cannabis-related imprisonment?
LA: Every inmate is not like Corvain Cooper, and we’re aware of that. (As a side note, we’re not here to glamorize the sale of weed or cannabis 15 years ago or today.) Everybody has their own set of circumstances surrounding their offenses. So keeping that in mind, and [depending on] whatever background that that inmate may have, it may not work out to ask for clemency or a pardon. [Or] it may [be better for] that inmate to ask for a reduced sentence. We’re aware that other people may have other charges and circumstances. Corvain’s case was just so uniquely placed that we felt that that’s the direction we should go for him in particular. But most times, you will have to pivot and ask for that reduced sentence versus the immediate release.
EM: Getting people out of prison is a really big step. But once they’re out, many experience difficulties finding employment and housing. Does 40 Tons help with those things, and if so, how?
LA: Our way of restorative justice is giving that inmate or that inmate’s family real-time assistance. No one understands the nuances like I do, having had Anthony, my husband, in prison. Real-time assistance — you’ve got to be able to have money in an account so they can call collect. These phone calls are not cheap. There’s one other person whose case we are trying to bring awareness [to]. He needed a pair of reading glasses. Unfortunately, the state, the feds, do not supply these things. This is essential so he can see, so he can read. We actually purchased his eyeglass.
We’re constantly communicating with inmates, [and] giving that real-time support that’s needed to the inmates and their families. We’re involving ourselves in other community projects. Like I mentioned earlier, I serve on the Marijuana Matters advisory board. That organization directly helps the inmate when they are released: helping them find employment, get training, purchase the suit, learn how to tie a tie. We’re trying to get them acclimated back into society the best way we know how. So, yes, we collaborate with other organizations that can help in areas they are more suited to intervene. But we actually do the work, writing letters, postage stamps, envelopes, whatever is needed to offer that little comfort to that inmate. Because like I said, I know exactly how that feels.
EM: Can you tell us more about this particular inmate, and how the audience might help?
LA: His name is Parker Coleman. He is sentenced to 60 years for cannabis. He is next on our list to bring awareness to. What we can do or what others can do [is:] sign a petition on Change.org, or align yourself with other organizations like Last Prisoner Project, or Buried Alive Project. These are organizations that also have direct contact with inmates. Some of them just need you to write a letter. What does that cost you, 20 minutes out of your day and 50¢ stamp?
On the small scale someone in a younger demographic, 12 to 18, can do that — anyone can do that. If you want to do a little bit more, we also have some GoFundMe sites that are set up to help people like Corvain get acclimated into society because he has nothing. He had nothing when he came home — [just] a trash bag full of pictures and the clothes on his back. So there are some small things I feel the community can do. Definitely share the message with all your social media networks. That’s always important, just bringing awareness. It doesn’t necessarily have to be monetary, but just being aware of what’s going on.
EM: What’s the biggest roadblock to getting somebody out of prison?
LA: You can get people to listen. They want to hear a sensational story. But what I found was getting people to take action — that was a huge roadblock. Holding people accountable, that was a huge roadblock. And the racism, the stigma that’s placed upon Black and Brown people when they are in prison. It’s been said that, “they probably deserve to be there. Oh, they’re probably bad.” That’s also a huge roadblock for us. But we’ve proven with Corvain Cooper that that is not the case. It was nonviolent cannabis charges and his other charges also were nonviolent. So he was just the poster child for us to succeed. You know, not to mention we know him intimately, personally for many, many years.
EM: Do you think politicians are doing enough to promote cannabis reform?
LA: They say you shouldn’t talk about politics and religion. But I will say this. I think politicians start off with a good message and a lot of hope, which is needed. [But then, their vision becomes obscured]. Politicians are going to be forced to deal with the issues more often, more frequently than ever before. I hope they’re ready for it because it’s coming, and it’s not going to stop until the actual change is done.
EM: Former President Donald Trump was the reason you helped get Corvain out of prison. But he and his followers are controversial. What are your feelings towards him now?
LA: I have mixed emotions towards Donald Trump. But I never disliked him, per se. I think he did what he could do within his realm. And yeah, he misspoke, or yeah, he addressed things incorrectly. Or maybe we received them incorrectly. I’m not going to put the blame all on him. He could have done more in people’s eyes.
But as far as Corvain and Trump, I feel Trump took a necessary step in giving a Black man his life back. For that, I am grateful, I respect him. It didn’t just affect Corvain by himself. He has two small children. Trump has given these little girls their father back; given the only son to his mother back; the only son to his father. He’s done more than just release him. He really stepped up when it came down to it. I just respect him for that. And a side note, he actually called Corvain when he got released, so that was a huge deal too, pretty exciting.
EM: Is there anything else you would like people to know about your company, about your mission, about your message?
LA: I hope to be an inspiration for other Black women or women of color to let them know that even though things may be stacked against you, you surely can pull yourself up and make a name for yourself. I plan to shake this business up a little bit because the percentage of Black women that own, operate, cultivate, grow, or distribute cannabis is very, very small. I hope to offset that by obtaining my licenses to do all of that and hopefully pass on all of my knowledge and expertise to the next person in line so that we can change the statistics of this, the cannabis space being dominated by white men and women.
I’m hopeful that I can make that change. I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and actually do the work and obtain the licenses. I hope that women in this space will accept me with open arms and share their steps in how they began and where they’re at now. It is important that women in this space accept and make room at the table for me. There’s enough room at the table where I can scoot my chair in and we all can profit and be a part of cannabis now that it’s legal.