JD Ellis, aka Gray Wolf is no longer an active member of Skunk Pharm Research, and the opinions of JD Ellis do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Skunk Pharm Research. Enjoy.
Author: Elise Herron
Published August 23, 2017
Andrew Jones' company Connoisseur Concentrates has a marketing video on its website that can only be described as perplexing.
For an hour and six minutes, Jones, clad in a white hoodie with the word "Crooks" silkscreened on the front, tells viewers how he's poised to dominate his industry with patents, how his product is the best on the market and how he can sue anybody who infringes on his intellectual property.
"People want to come in and make a quick buck off of us," Jones says of outsiders he fears will soon lay claim to the cannabis industry. "It shouldn't happen and it won't happen, and if we're really smart about it, they'll work for us."
Jones, 37, specializes in one of the most lucrative segments of the marijuana industry—extracting butane hash oil, or BHO, a sticky, honeylike substance that is distilled essence of cannabis.
Hash oil, which concentrates THC or CBD, the active ingredients in marijuana, is used in vaporizer pens, baked into edibles, or formed into translucent sheets called "shatter," which is used to dab. In dabbing, a small drop of highly potent extract is evaporated on a heated surface, and the user inhales the fumes.
Extracts, according to the research firm BDS Analytics, make up almost a quarter of Oregon's $400 million a year cannabis market.
Extracting the oil from marijuana can be risky, because it involves pressure and highly flammable materials.
Jones claims the device he patented last year—it's called "Mr. Extractor"—is the best way to reduce such risks and produce a pure product.
Mr. Extractor, manufactured in Tualatin, retails for $10,000. Jones says he has sold about 50 of them, though the real money, he hopes, will come from licensing his patents.
In a video he made about his plan for market dominance, Jones and his attorney, Holly Johnston, explain the legal protections he has secured and warn competitors not to appropriate his technology.
"I'm pleased to announce that Connoisseur Concentrates has secured the federal patent rights for virtually all closed-loop extraction systems in the country," Jones says.
In an interview with WW, Jones says the legal talk was meant to send a message: "I wanted to scare some people."
To some, Jones represents the new wave of cannabis entrepreneurs, chasing the riches the industry promises with the zeal of Silicon Valley techbros. To others, however, Jones is a profiteer who's relied heavily on other people's inventions.
Few are more critical of Jones than JD Ellis, the man many people say actually developed the process Jones patented.
"I think he's a sociopath," Ellis says of Jones. "He'll say and do anything without remorse and somehow justify it."
Oregon's temple of cannabis extraction is a small home in Southeast Portland located just off Woodstock Boulevard.
Ellis works out of a living room there. A worn sofa sits draped with a knitted blanket, a small Buddha figurine rests on a shelf, and paintings and photos cover the walls.
On a recent day, Ellis, 73, wore a plain black T-shirt tucked into faded blue jeans and a small straw hat.
In online cannabis forums, Ellis is known as "Gray Wolf." His deep, soft voice carries the slightest hint of his Oklahoma upbringing. He worked as an aerospace engineer until 2005, when he turned his technical skills to cannabis.
Ellis says his "eureka!" moment came 10 years ago, when he lost a friend to a brain tumor.
"After he died, I read about a study that was done in Spain in about 1972 where they injected THC into the brain tumors of rats, and the tumors diminished and went away," Ellis says. "I realized that that treatment wasn't available to my friend."
Ellis says he first smoked cannabis at the age of 27. But he started using it more frequently a little more than 30 years later after he developed degenerative arthritis. He subsequently obtained a medical marijuana card and decided to learn how to extract THC oil from cannabis.
"Concentrates are meant to have a higher level of potency, a different range of effects, different flavor profiles," says Casey Houlihan, executive director of the Oregon Retailers of Cannabis Association.
To make BHO, cannabis leaves and flowers are packed in a canister and liquid butane is pushed through it. The butane acts as a solvent, leaching cannabis oil from the plant.
BHO extraction is risky because the solvent, butane, is extremely flammable.
There have been eight reported hash oil explosions in Portland in the past four years, according to Portland Fire and Rescue. The most recent hash oil explosion, on July 26 in North Portland, left two dead.
In 2011, Ellis developed a much safer method of extraction using a closed-loop system. Rather than allowing butane vapor to escape into the air where it can catch fire or explode, Ellis' system used a series of pumps and tubes to keep the butane and its vapors contained.
It took him three months and $1,600 to develop. Along the way, Ellis, who called his lab Skunk Pharm Research, shared his work online and on a popular cannabis forum, icmag.com, making his technology freely available.
In closed-loop extractions, the oily butane and cannabis mixture is deposited in a metal collection pot and a tube connected to another column recaptures the butane vapor. The butane can be recovered with an external pump or by making the collection pot much hotter than the butane recovery tank. The butane evaporates from the warmer pot into the recovery tube and condenses in the cooler tank.
Cannabis industry insiders say Ellis made a major breakthrough.
"I'm surprised I haven't seen JD celebrated more," says Jeremy Plumb, co-owner of the Southeast Portland dispensary Farma. "He's a bit of a unicorn. There's no other version [of extraction] I can find online that had the same level of expertise and prowess."
After he began his first extractions using a closed-loop machine, Ellis says, the demand for his product and questions about his process quickly became overwhelming.
Ellis and his research group built a loyal following.
"I take a gram to 2 grams a day [of Skunk Pharm Research's BHO oil] as part of my treatment plan," says C.J. Darneille, a local cancer patient. "It helped reverse my melanoma."
Ellis and his partners, Carla Kay and Joseph Oats, used marijuana they grew themselves to make extracts. When that wasn't enough, Ellis says, sometimes people who heard they were giving away cannabis oil for free would donate their surplus homegrown pot.
Ellis says he welcomed anyone who was interested in learning about extraction to come to his home. In 2010, Steve Bennett, 56 at the time, sought Ellis' help in treating his stage-four non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"He was amazing," Bennett, now in remission, says of Ellis. "He let me use his house and all his equipment to teach me how to make my own extracts. We spent six to eight hours together, and he never asked for a penny."
In total, Ellis estimates he's helped hundreds of people, either by extracting hash oil for them, answering their questions online or teaching them in person how to build a closed-loop system.
"We were trying to make medical cannabis available to everybody," Ellis says. "The way that we could do that was to get enough out there that more people would be using it—and then they'd be running to the voting booths and running through the streets yelling, 'It's a miracle!'"
Ellis says he was never interested in getting rich from weed.
"I'm retired," he says. "I don't need the money."
Of all the students who learned from Gray Wolf, none would be as consequential as Andrew Jones.
Jones entered the marijuana industry at a young age, long before cannabis was legal.
"Drew does have a history," says Craig Opfer of Magneto, a Portland marketing company that advises Jones. "He had a misspent youth, was incarcerated and came out of it with the mindset that he was going to take the establishment down."
Jones says his mother grew, extracted and distributed marijuana. When he was 13, he started growing pot himself, he says, and soon was selling it.
In 1994, when Jones was 14, police raided his mother's home in Tigard, looking for a marijuana grow.
"I had guns, they had guns—we ended up shooting at each other," Jones says.
The Oregonian reported that when a sheriff's deputy entered Jones' room, Jones pointed a gun at him and the deputy "shot Andrew three times with a 9 mm assault rifle."
Jones was charged with possessing a firearm, convicted and spent three years in state custody at the Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility in Salem, where he finished high school.
Getting shot and thrown into juvenile detention did nothing to curb Jones' enthusiasm for the marijuana business.
"I felt so strongly about growing cannabis," he says. "I felt I needed to go back to finish [making it in the cannabis industry] in defiance of the situation."
After serving his time, Jones started growing cannabis and says at one point he was growing "hundreds if not thousands of plants." Soon, he jumped into the extraction business, a move that inevitably led him to Ellis.
Jones and Ellis met online, in closed-loop BHO extraction's infancy.
"Early in the cannabis industry, most people would talk on the forums," Jones says. "That's where I knew Gray Wolf from."
In 2013, Jones attended an extraction class that Ellis was teaching at the Woodstock home.
By that time, Ellis had already published three of his closed-loop extractor designs online. He introduced his extraction machines, with photographs and detailed descriptions, to the public on the International Cannagraphic website, icmag.com, as well as on his research group's site, skunkpharmresearch.com.
The time stamps on the posts date from 2011. The designs included what parts to buy, how many, where to find them and how much they cost. He included photos of his finished extractors as well as technical drawings.
Ellis' designs came from years of experimenting and his background in engineering.
Ellis remembers Jones attending his daylong BHO extraction class, and how they would "talk at length about closed-loop extraction systems."
"He was young and bright," Ellis says of Jones, "but he also sort of put you on edge. He could be pretty glib."
Jones, who has no technical training, downplays Ellis' influence and the difficulty of designing a closed-loop extraction device.
"To be quite honest, it's not that hard," Jones says. "It's a relatively simple concept. Having a strong sense of common sense and a small amount of intelligence and the culmination of knowledge through Google, you can do just about anything."
Jones went on to build his own extractor using closed-loop technology, and in 2016, he was awarded federal patent No. 9327210 for his BHO extraction machine.
With his device, Jones uses dry ice, which evaporates in misty clouds from the top of his extractor like a mad science experiment, and hot water during the butane recovery process.
Because cannabis is still illegal under federal law, Jones and his attorney were intentionally vague in the wording of their patent description: "Any extractable plant material can be used in the disclosed devices." Though, for the sake of clarity, they also added that "in some examples some form of the cannabis plant is used."
"A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor," the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office explains on its website. Those property rights include "the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale or selling the invention in the United States."
Jones moved to dominate closed-loop BHO extraction with his patent. But Ellis and others point out many similarities between what Jones patented and the designs Ellis published online years earlier.
"His device essentially duplicated mine," Ellis says. "He's a scoundrel. There's a lot of stuff out there. I have no problem with anybody using any of it. What I do have a problem with is somebody thinking they can patent it."
In 2015, while Jones' patent application was still pending, Jones and Ellis began sparring online. Ellis was skeptical the younger man would succeed in gaining legal protection for his invention.
"It is unlikely that these interlopers will be awarded [a patent] with their later design drawing heavily on past art," Ellis wrote of Jones' application. "If somehow miraculously awarded, think how difficult and expensive it will be to defend!"
"Gray Wolf," Jones wrote in response, "I respect you and your work. In these years we have found ourselves on different sides of the same coin. This isn't going to be fun or pretty, but that's how it is."
Plenty of people think Jones got his ideas from Ellis and others.
Another extraction pioneer, David McGhee of Tamisium Extractors in Fort Worth, Texas, claims Jones probably drew upon his and others' designs.
"To me, evidence that somebody copied is when they can't show their work," McGhee says. "At some point, he learned [how to make an extractor], either directly from me or from information released online."
Liz Blaz, sales and business development specialist for the Portland extraction engineering group Eden Labs, says she thinks Jones' design drew heavily on Ellis' work.
"People hear about Drew and they realize that his point of reference for expertise, his knowledge source and knowledge base, is JD," she says.
Jones insists his design is original.
"I did my own research," Jones says. "I didn't work with anybody else."
The cannabis industry is divided over how intellectual property should be handled.
The Open Cannabis Project is a Portland-based effort to create a comprehensive catalog of marijuana plant strains online so they will be considered prior art and therefore unpatentable.
"The Open Cannabis Project has a simple mission," the group's website reads, "to protect the richness and diversity of cannabis…to ensure that they remain available, and in the public domain, forever."
Farma's Plumb is part of the Open Cannabis Project. He says Jones' business model could be bad for the cannabis industry.
"This young guy comes forward with a patent clearly outlined online years before the patent is awarded," Plumb says. "Patents can have a chilling effect on innovation or they can incentivize. It depends on how they're pursued."
Plumb believes Jones' patents are an example of shifting motivations in the cannabis industry.
He says profiteering patent-holders threaten the free-flowing exchange of knowledge with techniques that characterized marijuana when it was an underground market.
As for Ellis, he's shifted his focus to helping establish cannabis workplace regulations. He says Jones is a "charlatan" and wants nothing more to do with him.
"There's going to be a bunch of people in there scrapping and throwing money around, Ellis says, "and the only people that are going to be getting rich are the attorneys."
But Ryan Leverenz, Jones' publicist, says people like Ellis and Plumb's vision of an open-sourced cannabis industry is outdated and unrealistic.
"Tell Nike that, tell Apple that," Leverenz says of the suggestion that patents squelch innovation. "An industry evolves through innovations, and innovations need to be attributed."
Jones says small cannabis entrepreneurs will lose out if they don't patent intellectual property quickly. He says Ellis' approach is a recipe for failure.
"One of the things that I find interesting about myself and JD is that we came from the same area," Jones says. "He decided that he's going to claim ownership of extraction equipment and give it away to people. His company is bankrupt. He has no sellable products. I'm making millions of dollars."
The two-story industrial building in Tigard where Connoisseur Concentrates is headquartered is unremarkable on the outside. Inside, the building is a flashy gallery of expensive toys.
In a glass display case inside the front entrance sits an illuminated Mr. Extractor.
Built from shiny stainless steel, the extractor looks simple. It's made up of three small columns and stands about 3 feet high. On the bottom-most column there is an inscription that reads "Mr. Extractor" above the machine's lot number: 0002.
It's the second Mr. Extractor Jones ever produced. He says the first went to Snoop Dogg. He has a photo of himself presenting the rapper with the extractor in Aspen, Colo., at the 2015 X Games.
On a recent day, a thumping bassline pumped through the building while Jones—dressed in a black hooded sweatshirt with the words "Rebel Fight" printed across the front, baggy jeans, matching black Converse sneakers and a large gold bracelet and gold watch—showed off his empire.
Crisp white walls, beakers full of terpenes—a blend Jones mixes to make extracts taste better—and a massive flat-screen television adorn his workspace. It's a long way from Ellis' quaint Woodstock lab.
Jones claims he now grosses a couple million dollars a year selling Mr. Extractor and related products.
He owns a retail shop in Los Angeles. He holds three patents, and has applied for five more. He hasn't sued anyone for patent infringement yet, but he's watching his competitors closely. Those patents, he's convinced, will make him and people who license his patents wealthy.
"At Connoisseur Concentrates, we're in the business of making money," Jones says in one video. "We're in the business of making you money."
"That's your new house," he says pointing to one of the many bundles of cash that line the table. "That's your new car. That's your kid's car, your kid's house, your college fund," he says rapidly.
"Join us," he says. "Listen to the haters or count the stacks."
In his many online videos, he speaks darkly of the threat from Big Pharma and foreign investors. His protection from those predators: his patents.
"I fought and sacrificed a lot to get here," Jones says. "Legalizing [marijuana] with blood to give it to corporations is not what I had in mind."
Read the full article here, from Willamette Week:
photo credit: Willamette Week