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A Conversation With Loriel Alegrete, CEO of Social Impact Cannabis Brand 40 Tons

A Conversation With Loriel Alegrete, CEO of Social Impact Cannabis Brand 40 Tons

Loriel Alegrete is the CEO of the Black, woman-owned organization 40 Tons, a social impact cannabis brand focused on restorative justice, cannabis legalization, rehabilitation and reduced sentencing. 40 Tons began in Los Angeles, California. However, her brand is only one aspect of her work and impact.

Alegrete is a huge proponent of community work and organizing. She is the co-founder of Jump For Joy, a community outreach program for children facing obesity in Las Vegas. Alegrete is also a mother of three and is involved with various other business ventures and community organizations. 

Part of the inspiration behind 40 Tons comes directly from Alegrete’s experiences with her loved ones being incarcerated, specifically her husband Anthony and close friend Corvain Cooper. Both Anthony Alegrete and Corvain Cooper were sentenced on marijuana-related charges. 40 Tons was established to both support and represent those impacted by the system — cannabis prisoners, victims of the War on Drugs, as well as their loved ones. 

It is currently estimated that approximately 80-90% of the US cannabis industry is run by white owners, making Alegrete one of the few Black people at an executive level within the industry. 

HONEYSUCKLE MAGAZINE: The cannabis industry is primarily white-owned — especially in contrast to all of the people affected by the criminal justice system for cannabis-related charges. How has this reality affected you as one of the few Black owners in the country? 

LORIEL ALEGRETE: I know the cards are sort of stacked against us in that industry, but I felt that I needed to make my own seat at the table. No one was just gonna give it to me, right? That’s exactly what I did with 40 Tons. I had to make sure we were represented as Black and brown people in the industry. Not just as a Black female, but also representing the mothers and the daughters and the wives that are left behind when their loved ones are incarcerated, so the injustice behind that, too. 

Have you been able to find allyship and community with others in the business? 

Yes, when one door closes, several others open up. Those business relationships have given me the opportunity that I’m grateful for. You know, we’ve done a lot of collaborations with other brands and — with that — I like to think of myself as a good judge of character. I also can vibe off of someone’s energy — you know, if they’re genuine or not. 

So, I try to also use my leadership skills in identifying “Is this going to be a good fit?,” “Can I align myself accordingly with them?,” and “[Are] our brands going to be cohesive to work together?”  My husband Anthony, he is white. We’ve been married for 20 years, together [for] 22 [years]. He happens to be an ally — obviously. Doors that don’t open so easily for me, open very easily for him. So I want to just be really open and honest about that. My eyes are wide open, I’m fully aware.

Do you find the industry to be competitive or does competition not matter as much?

Yes and no to both of those. You know, there is competition out there because everyone thinks that their brand is the best or they grow the best cannabis. There’s that healthy competition, if you will. But for the most part, I think my business model is in a very unique space, so that takes us in a different path. 

The 40 Tons team. Left to right: Anthony Alegrete, Loriel Alegrete, and Corvain Cooper. (C) Emily Eizen

We’ve touched on this a little bit so far, but what are some challenges that you face as a Black woman in the cannabis industry and how have you dealt with/overcome them?

People not taking me seriously or feeling sorry for me. I want people to support 40 Tons, not because I am a Black female-owned business cannabis brand, but because it is a good business. I’m doing good work, I’m bringing awareness to these causes and I have a voice [on] them. 

We are capable of bringing a premium cannabis product to market. I’m proud that I am a Black business owner of this brand. Hopefully, this shows [others that] this is what true social equity looks like. 

Do you mind expanding on the part where you were talking about people feeling sorry for you and what exactly you mean by that? What does that look like?

Yeah, so just a little bit of background. When my loved ones were incarcerated the [reactions to being the] person left behind were like “Oh my gosh! Poor thing! How is she ever going to survive?” That is the stigma people have about me sometimes. I want to change that. I’ve had to be really strong throughout this whole process.

 

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on business operations for many companies across many industries. However, Alegrete and the rest of the 40 Tons team have been able to maintain their successful business throughout the pandemic. 

How has the pandemic affected your business and the community work that you do? How have you dealt with any difficulties it has caused?

The pandemic provided a unique opportunity for us. We look at it as a blessing, you know? They say “cream rises to the top,” and the pandemic has shown that I’ve got the grit and resilience to bounce back and to make it through. I’m just adapting to the current times. We’re here via Zoom and we’re supposed to be in the studio, we’re just making it all work. I’ve also been able to leverage relationships that I probably would have never been able to before quarantine. 

Due to the nature of cannabis, I’d imagine it’s not as necessary to have close, in-person interaction as other industries. Has the way you’ve interacted with customers changed or have things stayed relatively the same?

The customer interaction has to be a little more in-depth. I’ve had to give a little more customer service. 

Your experiences with incarceration through those close to you must have been immensely stressful. Despite this, you still managed to achieve so much. What motivated you then and what continues to motivate you now? 

Just to go back a little further, when my husband was incarcerated, I had to be the strongest I had ever been before because we have three children. I would say my children [have] been and continue to be the motivating factor for me in keeping going in this industry or just keeping afloat. My brother is still incarcerated. It was heavy for me. You know, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, right? 

What have been some of the most rewarding parts of your work, specifically with regards to you being a community leader that works to restore communities affected by drug-related incarceration?

The most rewarding, so far, is having Corvain Cooper come home. That was an amazing feeling because he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. To have that happen and be a part of that was [and] still is really surreal. Even today, he’s been out [for] 57 days or something like that. That has been very, very rewarding. It just goes to show that when you speak up, things can change. 

Corvain Cooper (C) Emily Eizen

Using clothing and the sale of cannabis is a unique and efficient method of fighting cannabis-related injustice. How did the idea to develop a company like this come to you?

Selling clothing and accessories didn’t require much red tape, obviously, so we started with that. We want to build a culture behind our brand and that’s where Corvain and I came together. Corvain has always been this fashion-forward guy that was always doing these crazy things, whether with his car or his clothes. 

So, I knew there that we would have a good marriage there, where we could build. I also studied fashion at [the] Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, which is in downtown LA. So, it was a no-brainer for us to put our heads together and do something that was like fashion connected. This is our way to tell our story and have people support us. 

Is it my understanding that you and Corvain were working together while he was incarcerated?

Corvain [and my] friendship is over 20 years [long]. We all went to high school. He’d always been that guy, it’s like we’re brother and sister. We always had that in common, that was our common camaraderie if you will. He had a clothing store in the heart of Los Angeles before he was incarcerated. We’ve always connected over fashion sense.

Did you find it difficult to work on building your brand while he was incarcerated? What were the most difficult parts of that?

Yeah, it was difficult because he was far away and phone calls were not planned. There were always lockdowns which means phone calls cease. When I was under the deadline to get x, y, and z done and I hadn’t communicated with him, he had to trust that I would pick the best path for us. We always stayed in contact. He was at my wedding, he was at the hospital when I gave birth. We’ve always been this extended family. 

What was the process of starting the company like? What were the struggles that you faced and how were you able to overcome them in that sense?

We’ve been entrepreneurs for over 20 years and started various businesses — profit and nonprofit — which gave me a lot of experience in business. Then, once we realized that [was] what we wanted to do, we just started the groundwork. It’s behind the scenes. It’s building your brand, your brand deck, your business model, and incorporating all of the legalities that go behind the scenes. 

You need to get your lawyers, your docs, your articles, your corporation — all of these entities that’s behind the scenes that you have to work on. The team next to me allowed me to do this. Our biggest struggle is being able to finance the effort. We’re on a shoe-string budget, but we also have a good cause and a good mission. 

So, others in different positions like to align themselves with us — the lawyers on my team that advise me, other business owners in the cannabis space that have been there for a decade or longer, and other growers that have also been really helpful in my whole mission here.

What would you say has been the most transformative experience with the work you do? Was there ever a related event that made you rethink or adjust your worldview? How has that affected you today?

The most transformative event in my life was when I witnessed Anthony and Corvain getting charged with the same crime and Corvain being sentenced to life without parole and Anthony not getting that same sentence. 

I had an aha moment where it was — I [knew] something had to change. [Corvain’s sentence] was not fair at all. I only could think “it’s gotta be the race.” Never mind Anthony’s accolades [or] Corvain’s accolades, what else could it be? It just resonated with me, I had to do something. 

Corvain Cooper (C) Emily Eizen

Your website detailed the process of acquiring clemency for Corvain specifically. That’s such a huge accomplishment and an extremely difficult one, especially considering it happened under Trump’s administration. What was that process like? 

I know there’s a lot of negativity surrounding Trump throughout his presidency, but it was a situation where 1 + 1 + 1 = 10. So many organizations and people rallied together for Corvain’s cause and his girls — he has two children. 

It wasn’t just me, it wasn’t just Anthony, it wasn’t just 40 Tons. It was a collaborative effort with other organizations: Buried Alive Project that is represented by Brittany K. Barnett, who is another amazing Black lawyer in the space. She [is] personally responsible for getting [about] 20 people either clemency or pardons.

Last Prisoner Project, which is huge in the cannabis space, and Marijuana Matters D.C. — which I also sit on the advisory board for [and work with] were also involved. Others include Khadijah Tribble [Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility at Curaleaf], Alice Johnson — she also got clemency, too under Obama’s presidency — and a lot of other people behind the scenes who were close or had people in the White House that would advocate for Corvain, his story, and how unjust it was. Also Weldon Angelos of Project Mission Green. He was critical.

We’re talking well over a decade ago when he got arrested and sentenced; now, we’re talking about a plant that is now legal [in several states]. It was bringing that awareness and that attention to the White House. [It was] on Trump’s last day in office when he gave Corvain presidential clemency. 

Did you and the people you worked with ever speak to Trump directly or was it through administrators and other people? 

It was through administrators and other people. However, Trump did give Corvain a telephone call when he got home. That was amazing! Him and Ivanka reached out, so that was huge. 

Just to touch on some other people that were also involved: There’s Anthony — my husband — there’s Evelyn LaChapelle who is also part of the 40 Tons team, and Natalie Wade. All four of these individuals are also on the indictment. This company is very organic. Everyone has a place and a reason to be here and to bring awareness to the cause. 

Anthony was on Clubhouse early on, all day, all night for months and months and months bringing attention to Corvain’s story, meeting people who would give advice or help amplify the story. He also was very aggressive in getting the story heard. 

Was there a learning curve or period of difficulty in learning how to fight these systems that allow for unjust marijuana-related carceral punishment? How were you able to figure that out? Also, since the process of arrest to sentencing is such a long, arduous process, how were you able to shift from dealing with the grief of that to moving into action?

There was a learning curve and there still is at times. I don’t have all the answers, although I am getting education daily on things. We just learned to adapt to what’s in front of us and [learned] how to pivot when we need to. We just have a great team that’s supportive of us.

You mentioned getting educated on the process. What were your biggest sources of learning and education about the process?

People that are in the space. There’s growers that have educated me and continue to educate me. There are manufacturers [and] distributors in the cannabis space. Other big names like Ocean Grown Extracts that we have a collaboration with, some executives at Dutchie, Doc Ray with Good MoFo Farms and Doc Ray Genetics. A lot of different people have mentored me along the way. There’s a lot of things in my pipeline that I’m super excited about. I’m like a kid in a candy store, I get to learn something new every day and it’s still so exciting to me. 

What are your hopes for the future of legislation and cannabis?

I’m hopeful that the plant will be federally legalized soon. It’s not just [about] legalization but also bringing real, restorative justice to our brothers and sisters that are locked up over this plant — many who are Black and brown, unfortunately. We just have to correct these injustices. If we make the plant legal, it’s only fair that we have to fix the justice system as it relates to cannabis.

 

Black women are often put in positions that cause them to neglect taking care of themselves. This can be especially true for women like Alegrete who are in very powerful, responsibility-laden positions. However, Alegrete has a handle on both taking care of herself and others. 

As a Black woman in any space that requires a lot of work, initiative, and effort, the topic of self care is always an important one. How have you been able to prioritize self care considering all of the work that you do and your responsibilities?

Sometimes, I partake in cannabis. I’ll microdose an edible just because [things have been] stressful. It’s tough running a household and [taking care of] our three children. Everyone is in Zoom school [as] I call it. I’m also in nursing school in addition to being  the CEO of 40 Tons. I just try to eat right and workout — at least walk the dog on our trail, and just try to find that work-life balance as much as I can. 

How have you been able to find that work-life balance, especially considering this job isn’t limited to the 8-hour work day? 

I have schedules and I leave extra time for those nuances that may come in. I start my day super early, I end it really, really late. I’m a good orchestra leader. I also know how to delegate these tasks when I personally can’t do it. 

I know for myself and other young people — POC specifically — asking for help can be quite difficult. Have you found it difficult to learn to ask for help?

I don’t find it difficult to ask for help. I’m a humble person. I’m pretty comfortable with asking for the help and actually having someone deliver, too, because that’s also a big thing. I’ve got good people around me. 

I feel like you’re touching on team-building, too. Not just in a work sense, but also in a life sense. How have you been able to build a team and a support system consisting of people where there is trust on both your side and theirs?

I am a very loyal person. My oldest [friendship is] 27 years, I’ve got a couple like that. I know that I can count on them no matter what day [or] night it is. They can trust me, my loyalty has been proven over and over again and they know my backstory. 

I think I’ve been just this constant presence in their lives that they can rely on and vice-versa. That’s really hard to find and really hard to continue to achieve. I really cherish that, so that’s really important to me. 

What have you learned about yourself through this process? What are the moments that have really had a big impact on you and your personal development?

This one is tough, but I’m going to try and get it out. I’ve stuffed the feelings down so that I can continue. I learned that I’m resilient and a fighter. The moment that impacted me personally was when I had to watch my mother lose her battle with cancer. It meant that I had to be the matriarch of the family. I had to step into her shoes and essentially be her but be me and be for everybody. 

How do you hope to empower other Black women in the cannabis industry and/or other Black women in general? 

By showing them that no matter what obstacles are put in front of them, they can do anything. Black women have this inner strength. Most people don’t see it from the outside, they usually just see the color black. But I like to call it this Black Girl Magic about us. It’s enticing and it’s contagious. It’s about mindset, your network becomes your net worth. 

You must believe that you are capable of doing the job and you’ll be capable. I’d also love to be able to mentor young, Black females and share my experiences with them too and help guide them in a better direction. Hopefully, I’m making an impact in this industry and empowering other women to be like me. 

 

Visit https://40Tons.co to learn about and support their various initiatives and overall goal of helping people affected by marijuana-related incarceration. 

 

Tags: Cannabis, culture