Thanks to 40 Tons, everyone can get a second chance. The Black and woman-owned social impact brand, founded by Loriel Alegrete, began when her husband Anthony Alegrete and lifelong friend Corvain Cooper were incarcerated on cannabis charges. Over the past few years, Loriel and her team (including Anthony and Corvain, now thankfully out of prison) have grown 40 Tons into a force for advocacy, a company that provides cannabis products but more importantly shines a light on those still behind bars for the plant, ensuring that people are actively hearing their stories and providing resources to help them forge pathways back to life on the outside.
Watch the full interview with 40 Tons founder and CEO Loriel Alegrete:
40 Tons Level Up Career Conference Presented By Good Green: Celebrating Juneteenth In Chicago
Most recently, 40 Tons has struck a chord across the nation with its series of career fairs, the latest of which will be held on the Juneteenth holiday (June 19, 2023) in Chicago. The 40 Tons Level Up Career Conference will take place in the Windy City’s Malcolm X College Conference Center, presented by Good Green, a cannabis brand dedicated to supporting communities disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs. (Click here to get your tickets now!)
Throughout Level Up – which is 40 Tons’ sixth career fair since 2021 and its first to include employment opportunities for non-cannabis businesses – attendees will have access to a wide range of resources and services to facilitate their next life change. From free haircuts and wardrobe for interviews, to expungement clinics and connections for job training and recruiting, this conference is here to make an impact. Honeysuckle is proud to be a media partner for the Level Up Career Conference, alongside sponsors and partners Ascend Wellness, United Center, Engin Sciences, BrandResumes, Illinois Cannabis Training Center and 3IsFor by hip hop artist JoJo Simmons.
Listen to the full Honeysuckle podcast interview with 40 Tons founder and CEO Loriel Alegrete here:
Who's Speaking At The 40 Tons Level Up Career Conference? Congressman Danny K. Davis And Khadijah Tribble
40 Tons is collaborating with Chicago’s civic leaders and local organizations, including the Westside Justice Center, Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition, and a number of law firms and law school students to curate the expungement clinic with comprehensive wraparound services, including offsite fingerprinting at the Chicago Police Department, securing rap sheets, petition creation, and providing legal aid. Congressman Danny K. Davis, key sponsor of the Second Chance Act of 2007 which is credited for helping 100,000-plus individuals escape the cycle of recidivism following incarceration, will address attendees at the “State of Expungement in Illinois" session.
Cannabis industry legend Khadijah Tribble, founder of Marijuana Matters and Chief Strategy Officer of Marijuana Policy Trust, will present the conference’s keynote “Breaking The Glass Ceiling and Creating Your Own Lane.” Introduced by Dorothy Tucker, award-winning CBS2 Chicago News reporter and National Association of Black Journalists President, Tribble will provide attendees with the tools, inspiration, and strategies they need to overcome barriers and pave their own path to success. The session offers an opportunity for individuals from all backgrounds to gain invaluable insights from a renowned strategic advisor and make tangible progress in their professional journeys.
At the Chicago event, invitations have been extended to nearly a thousand individuals with previous nonviolent convictions to participate in 40 Tons’ Canna Get A Second Chance program, offering free-of-charge services to participate in the career conference and expungement clinic and to access resources and information on the pathway to restorative justice. They will also have an opportunity to receive academic scholarships for virtual classes from Oaksterdam University, the nation’s oldest and most renowned cannabis college.
40 Tons Founder Loriel Alegrete On The Level Up Career Conference And Advocating For Cannabis Prisoners
Ahead of the event, Honeysuckle founder Ronit Pinto sat down with 40 Tons founder Loriel Alegrete to get the 411 on everything that people should know before they go to the career fair.
RONIT PINTO: We were at the 40 Tons conference in Trenton, New Jersey last year. I thought it was so unique and truly impactful, very boots-on-the-ground. You brought the community together. There are so many different events and shows in the cannabis space, but yours felt intimate and authentic.
LORIEL ALEGRETE: Yes, we had a great turnout. I think the line was whipped around the block for people waiting to get in to see what we had to offer for that community in Trenton, New Jersey. So yeah, that was another epic win for 40 Tons Careers for sure on the East Coast.
[The Level Up Career Conference in Chicago] will be our sixth event… Our first one was in Hawthorne, California. The second one was in Oakland. Then we went to Trenton, then back to L.A., and then Jersey City, where we partnered with the African American Chamber of Commerce. We’ve grown organically, and we always get emails asking us to come to other cities. This next will be Chicago, and then back to the West Coast, and New York City after that, and then we’ll see where we land.
Amazing how you’ve scaled each one! How did 40 Tons start?
People probably know us as this social impact cannabis brand, and we have amazing products and flower and gummies and all that out on the market now. But we knew that that wasn’t enough. Everybody on our team for 40 Tons is system-impacted in some shape or way. For myself, as co-founder and CEO, I was the woman left behind when my husband Anthony had to go and serve time three times – three separate occasions – for nonviolent cannabis offenses, leaving me to raise the three children and hold the fort down and be mom and dad for years and years and years. Our third co-founder, Corvain Cooper, [was] on the same case with Anthony. Anthony got sentenced according to the federal guidelines, and Corvain ended up getting life without the possibility of parole.
This was infuriating to me, knowing that these two men were on the same exact case, same indictment. They were caught selling marijuana without a license and for Corvain to get this life sentence, this infuriation turned me into this advocate, this crusader, if you will, for justice for Corvain, our families. We're all victims of the War on Drugs. So fast forward, about a decade later, we've championed behind the scenes with Congress, legislation, other organizations that helped us amplify Corvain's message, our message, and then we got the winning lotto ticket. On Trump's last day in office, he signed for Corvain Cooper's clemency. Similar to the movies, we got the call in the wee hours, and that does exist, by the way. We got the call to go and pick Corvain Cooper up from federal prison, and we've been going on the ground ever since.
We didn't just stop at having a great cannabis brand and providing premium flower and products to consumers. We knew we had to do more to help the folks that are still currently incarcerated for nonviolent cannabis offenses, in addition to those that are coming out of not the best situation, really trying to set them up for success. And here was the birth of 40 Tons Careers. We stand by our six Es when we do our career conferences: Employment, Expungement, Education, Engagement, Empowerment, and Entertainment. Standing on those six pillars has been pivotal on in what we have accomplished so far and what we will accomplish in the future. This requires many resources from all walks of life, pulling everybody in together so that we can make our mission possible.
I don’t think people realize how hard reentry is for those who come back from being incarcerated.
It's tough. Our first conference, we called it “Canna Get a Second Chance?” We offered services like free haircuts and wardrobes and expungement clinics and wraparound services to help those individuals get a leg up as they just got released. Trying to get one's record expunged can be a very long process for some if they have a more in-depth rap sheet, but at least giving them the tools and resources that are available for them to execute that, that's something that we knew was really important to help with recidivism.
How did you conceive of the 40 Tons Careers series?
After we accomplished getting our products in dispensaries, we were like, what's next? This isn't enough. We have to be more impactful. We have to be more willing to do things outside of the box. And so we thought the best way to help the individual coming out of prison or the individual just wanting to change gears in their life [was] a career, but we knew we couldn't just be this boring career fair. We knew we had to up the ante because we're 40 Tons. We all started giving our ideas of how to make this bigger and better for the community that we were going to be reaching. It was just a collective of myself, Anthony, Corvain, Brandon Mitchell, who's also part of the team, seeing where we could be able to help those people that really needed the help and didn't know.
And some of 'em don't know that they needed the help until they've experienced this career conference. I've got so many stories I can share with you about individual people that I've seen transition. It almost brings a tear in my eye. [One person] who came to our career conference in Hawthorne, I would run into her sometimes afterward, and she’d be in another role and another role, just making her way up with that first company that she had interviewed with at our very first event.
So you see a high success rate from the career fairs?
Oh my God, so many. And huge wins like that. But I also love to count the small wins of, we're at the Oakland Career Conference and there is a gentleman wearing one of the prisoner's T shirts that he had purchased online [from the 40 Tons shop] and he wore it there to the event to represent this prisoner. And I thought, oh man, because that proceeds are going right back to that prisoner's commissary to help offset his family's financial obligations to him, which was near and dear to my heart because I was there at one point. So yeah, great stuff. I hope people just give it a chance. And even if you just come for a few hours, please do. I guarantee you will not regret that ride over.
Can you speak about race and racism in the prison-industrial complex as you’ve experienced it?
I can speak first firsthand how the racism affected myself, my children, my family. When Anthony went to prison, oftentimes I was not able to visit, [because] Anthony and I are an interracial couple. The children could visit, but it had to be with his mother. So that was really difficult. Just knowing that racism is alive and kicking still in prison was baffling to me. But it is real. I don't want to call it abuse, but the fear of being retaliated against because you are with a different race, married or whatever that looks like. And that you would get attacked for doing that is frightening, scary, it's unbelievable. But let me tell you, it absolutely is a real thing that I had to deal with for many years. So yeah, it's still there.
And what about the rates of incarceration for people of color? We know the statistics are very disproportionate.
Oh my gosh, about 80 to 90 percent of nonviolent cannabis offenders… are people of color [and] the victims of the War on Drugs. It takes work, like what 40 Tons is doing. It takes work, like what Honeysuckle is doing, to amplify these unjust things that have happened to Black and brown folks and try to correct them, or at least shed light on them. It's super important that we continue that.
This connects to your career fair as the Chicago event will be held on Juneteenth this year.
Yes, such a pivotal day! I’m feeling super lucky and excited that everything kind of fell into place as we chose Chicago as our next city to help that community. Juneteenth… means a great deal to myself, and people who look like me. We’ll be hosting at Malcolm X College in Chicago on Juneteenth from 9AM to 5:30PM in our traditional 40 Tons capacity. Participants need to come out and experience this. Congressman Danny K. Davis is joining us.
We have tons of sponsors [like] Ascend Wellness, the Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition, United Center, Engin Sciences, Marijuana Matters, several law firms. And Good Green [is] the title sponsor powering this career conference. They’re the company that believed in 40 Tons Careers to bring it to Chicago. We’re thrilled that they believed in us and our mission, and they’re one of the larger MSOs [multi-state operators] that are doing the work and want to align with what we’re doing. We’re grateful for them.
At the conference, you’re helping people gain employment on every level up to the C-suites.
Yeah, it’s from entry level to mid-level, C-suite and executives. This event is for any and everybody, whether you're trying to get back into the workforce or you're trying to pivot and change what you're currently doing to something else, or you just need education opportunities. We have workshops: Grow with Google, [education for] Illinois new cannabis licensees. Tons of knowledge and information. [There] are industry leaders in both fields, cannabis and non-cannabis businesses, that all need to hire diverse talent. We are filling that void for all of our exhibitors and doing a great deed as well.
Khadijah Tribble is a keynote speaker, right?
Khadijah Tribble from Marijuana Matters, former VP of a huge MSO. She's going to be talking about breaking the glass ceiling as we know she's done more than once, so stay tuned… She's going to blow the roof off the place for sure.
What are some of the other highlights people can look forward to at the Chicago conference?
It’s a beautiful event space. Malcolm X College is like a museum/college. They’ve got all the memorabilia from Malcolm X, detailing his whole life. The exhibitors are excited to be there; Chicago hasn’t had anything like this since Illinois became legal for cannabis. We are opening this event to both cannabis and non-cannabis businesses for the first time, merging both of our worlds together. Participants can look forward to workshops and networking and entertainment, because we’ll definitely have a network mixer afterward with the typical Chicago themes that they’re known for. So I think anyone who’s [wavering] on, “I don’t think I want to come,” I’m telling you, you definitely want to come, because this is going to be a day for you to remember. You’ll see what type of jobs are out there, and be able to speak with people who want to hire diverse talent. I know a lot of times you’re sending emails back and forth and you get no response, or you get put into this portal for your resume and no one ever calls you back. This is your chance to get in front of those hiring managers and actually speak with them, be able to shine and show them what you have to offer and see how they can further your mission.
Let’s talk a bit about how 40 Tons advocates for those still incarcerated. How do you communicate with people on the inside?
Corvain did almost a decade [in prison], so he had a lot of people that he knew who wanted 40 Tons to help amplify their message. On our website, 40tons.co, you can see the dozen prisoners we’re currently advocating for. It’s a bit of a process. They have to let us know what their cases and charges are and if they fit certain criteria. So far we've been, I don't even want to call it luck, Ronit. I want to just call it blessed, with everybody that we know sharing the story and amplifying that message. One former prisoner we were advocating for, Luke Scarmazzo, was released 90 days ago. He’s home now, and he was one of our guys that we were definitely rooting for that laws would change. So they have, and we’re super excited about that.
What are some of the criteria qualifying people to work with you?
The criteria would be having a nonviolent cannabis offense in the past 10 to 20 years, no other violent criminal history should be involved. And having that strong will to still want to be in the industry once you come home and just wanting to be an advocate and join forces, and I like to call it hook on your caboose to the 40 Tons train, and let's do this good work altogether.
And you work with their attorneys also?
Yeah, you have to get legal team representation. Most of them do come with counsel, so it's just plugging in with our current ecosystem and their attorney to see where they're at, what level the case is, where we can push their message even further. And then sometimes we've scheduled calls with our prisoners in the middle of an event. So that is extremely helpful and boy, our voices get magnified when we're able to speak with that prisoner and we are all at an event consuming and this person is in jail for something that we are openly consuming and benefiting from. It makes people stop in their tracks and say, “How can I help? What can I do?”
The criminal justice system and prison-industrial complex are, for lack of a better word, so fucked. Kevin Allen is serving a life sentence in Louisiana for selling $20 worth of cannabis. Parker Coleman is serving 60 years in Texas for cannabis trafficking even though no witness ever testified to buying anything from him. These are two men 40 Tons is advocating for and that’s symbolic of what a crapshoot the system is, how people are just forgotten. What’s your perspective on creating order out of chaos?
Just on Corvain and Anthony's case, there were 100 people on the indictment… In my opinion, you’ve got to do what you can within your bandwidth. For example, I do Canna Christmas, which is the 40 Tons Foundation, where we do parties and all that [for the families of incarcerated people]. But we have an activation there where I have a book of nonviolent cannabis offenders and I have a picture, a little bio of them and their address to write them letters because like you said, they are forgotten. And if somebody can stop and just write a couple of sentences on a sheet of paper to drop a line to someone that says, “Hey, I'm thinking about you, happy holidays,” whatever those lines are, this mail is liquid gold to prisoners. Everyone doing their small little part of taking the time to write a letter, dropping off a postcard, 10 minutes of your time and 60 cents for a stamp. It's nothing. When you go out doing whatever you can within your wheelhouse to better that person's situation, signing petitions on change.org, costs you nothing. A couple of clicks. Just being aware of someone else's suffering and seeing how you can help them in whatever way that looks like. Whether you have tons of money or no money there, there's ways for everybody to get involved.
Get involved with 40 Tons at 40tons.co to sponsor, advocate, and learn more about how you can help change the lives of people impacted by the War on Drugs. The 40 Tons Level Up Career Conference takes place on June 19, 2023 at the Malcolm X College Conference Center, 1900 West Jackson Boulevard, in Chicago. Click here for tickets.
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Featured image: (C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc. @tissuekulture