“Trump has just given you clemency,” said the guard. You’ve got five minutes to get your shit and get out.” The stunned prisoner, Corvain Cooper, took the empty trash bag from the guard’s outstretched hand and quickly filled it with the few possessions he was allowed in his cell. A short while later, he stepped through the gates of the federal penitentiary in Pollock, Louisiana, where his close friend Anthony was waiting to bring him home. Two days later, he hugged his two young daughters on his mother’s lawn in South Los Angeles. After nine years in federal custody, he was a free man.
That tearful reunion was on January 22, 2021, just two days after Donald Trump’s last day in the White House. In one of his final acts as president, Trump had signed an order commuting Cooper’s life sentence for a 2014 federal conviction on nonviolent marijuana distribution charges.
While Cooper may have been stunned in that moment, his presidential pardon was not a complete surprise. His family, as well as his lifelong friends Anthony and Loriel Alegrete, had been campaigning for his release for years. In June, 2020, as the Black Lives Matter movement surged across the country, the Alegretes stepped up their campaign by launching 40 Tons, a socially-conscious premium cannabis and clothing brand dedicated to advocating for the release of the 40,000 people in federal prison (as of 2018) on nonviolent marijuana charges. ( 40 Tons is the amount of marijuana seized by federal officials in the case that led to Cooper’s and Alegrete’s convictions.)
Unlike traditional nonprofit advocacy groups that rely on donations (think NORML or the Drug Policy Alliance) 40 Tons is a social enterprise, a business that uses a portion of the profits from its product sales to fund its advocacy efforts (think Ben & Jerry’s or Patagonia). And thanks to adult-use legalization in California, 40 tons is able to use the very thing that landed Cooper in prison a decade ago—marijuana sales—to make the money to advocate for his and other prisoners’ release. To help ease the burden of life in prison, 40 Tons also plans to provide direct financial support to nonviolent marijuana offenders and their families.
“I represent the mothers and the sisters and the daughters that are left behind when their loved ones have to go away and do time for non-violent cannabis charges,” said Loriel Alegrete, CEO of 40 tons.
“Whether you buy our merch or one of our collaborations with other cannabis brands, you know that part of the money will go to actually helping these inmates, whether it becomes putting money on their commissary books, [so] they can buy themselves a cup of soup on a cold day, or make a phone call to their daughter [on her] birthday, their graduation day, something that they’re going to miss… So this was our way of giving back and letting our community know that your dollar is actually going to said inmate or said family member.”
Anthony Alegrete serves as 40 Tons’ operations director. And soon after his release from prison, Corvain Cooper joined the 40 Tons team as brand ambassador.
Streetwear and Cannabis Collabs
The initial 40 Tons product offering was a full line of branded streetwear—ranging from $30 t-shirts, to a $150 limited-edition skateboard with an image of Cooper’s prison ID, to a $999 bomber jacket.
More recently, they have launched several 40 Tons-branded collaborations with cannabis producers, including lines of branded gummies made by Evidence and Ocean Grown Extracts. And on 4/20, Cookies announced a collaboration with Amplifier to extend the reach of Corvain’s story.
Also in the works, according to Loriel:
- Corvain Cooper’s forthcoming book, a three-part series titled “Look Into My Eyes.” Available this summer.
- A unique cannabis strain that was gifted to 40 Tons by a grower in Northern California, available in pre-rolls at dispensaries throughout California in late 2021.
Now that Cooper has been released from prison, says Loriel, 40 Tons will shift the focus of its advocacy efforts to the release of Parker Coleman, who is serving a 60-year sentence for a nonviolent cannabis offense.
Cooper’s Unlikely Path to Release
Prosecutors had snared both Cooper and Alegrete in a 100-person indictment in 2011 on charges of criminal conspiracy with intent to distribute 40 tons of marijuana throughout North and South Carolina.
Cooper qualified under the federal three-strikes law for the harshest sentence—life without parole. His two prior offenses were possession of an ounce of marijuana and possession of cough syrup without a prescription. Alegrete received a lighter sentence and was released from prison in 2014. The difference, says Alegrete’s wife Loriel, was that the two defendants had different lawyers and skin colors. “Anthony is white. Corvain is black.”
So how did Corvain Cooper—a clear victim of unjust prosecution—end up on Donald Trump’s pardon list alongside a rogue’s gallery of the former president’s political cronies and business associates? Apparently, says Loriel Alegrete, Cooper has Ivanka Trump to thank for that.
Cooper’s family and friends’ advocacy had turned him into a cause celebre in the criminal justice and prison reform movement. Patrick Megaro, a prominent criminal defense attorney based in Florida who has won the release of over a dozen nonviolent cannabis offenders, had taken on his case pro bono. After exhausting his legal appeals, they turned to lobbying the government for his release via social media and networking with celebrities, investors, and other power brokers connected to the Trump family.
By late 2020, a Change.org petition to the Trump administration had garnered over 150,000 signatures. And a coalition of 15 social justice groups, led by the Last Prisoner Project, were calling for Cooper to be set free.
One key to their networking strategy, it turns out, has been Clubhouse, a social media platform featuring drop-in live audio group chat rooms that can’t be recorded. By employing an age-old velvet rope strategy—invite a hand-picked list of early adopters including Silicon Valley digerati, athletes, and entertainers, and limit registration to invite-only—the app’s creators have reportedly turned Clubhouse into the fastest-growing social media platform ever.
After a recent mention of 40 Tons in a Forbes article on women in cannabis, former NBA star Chris Webber invited Loriel to speak to his Clubhouse room in a discussion focused on investment opportunities in black-owned cannabis businesses. That discussion, as well as others on the platform, helped 40 Tons find pro bono legal help, as well as a web developer and marketing strategist.
Somehow, through one channel or another—though if Loriel knows which, she won’t admit it—Corvain’s story caught the attention of Donald Trump’s daughter. “Ivanka Trump, I understand, had a really soft spot for a single father with young children going to jail for nonviolent cannabis charges,” Alegrete recalls. “So all these people championing for Corvain were to ‘blame’ for him coming home, if you will. So yeah, all those people and many many more.”
Alegrete clearly understands the complicated legacy of Donald Trump, though she takes pains to avoid criticizing the former president. “He did return an only son to his parents. He did return a father to two children. So for that I have respect for him.”
As 40 Tons slogan says, “Just because someone carries it well, doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy.” No one embodies that better than the 40 Tons team.
To help Corvain Cooper get back on his feet, 40 Tons is encouraging his supporters to donate via GoFundMe. MJBI readers can also help the cause by buying 40 Tons merch. Enter code MJ40 for a 15% discount.