Curaleaf Allegations: Irradiated Cannabis, Russian Influence, and More, with Grant Smith-Ellis
Posted on March 1st, 2023 to Transcripts
Jordan River 0:00
Greetings cultivators from around the world Jordan River here back with more grow cast just for you, radiation free. Today we have Grant Smith Ellis a first time guest on the line. He is a freelance journalist and he is covering the Curaleaf scandals that have been going on multiple investigations now opened into this large cannabis company. Now this episode is a little bit different than we usually do right we’ll be right back to the cultivation education you guys but as you know, we stand for home growers, home grower rights, increasing plant counts, protecting and spreading these homegrown rights so we have to cover events like this that severely affect companies that have actively lobbied against what we do, trying to make what we do illegal again essentially. So today’s episode is all about the recent scandals that have rocked Curaleaf and it’s a very interesting episode. Grant is an amazing guest. I know you’re gonna love it. Before we jump into it though. Shout out to Grow Depot, baby. Grow Depot in Virginia Beach. We were just at this amazing hydro store for our living soil masterclass. And we’re coming back out there with our breeder class and more Grow Depot in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The staff there is amazing shout out to Dhabi, shout out to all the lovely staff members. They support home growers, they support home grower education, you got to keep people like this in business, folks. Support small businesses and support those who support the home growers. They’ve got amazing knowledge at the store and they got everything you need for your home cannabis grow. They got your tents, they got your nutrients, they got your lights, whatever you need, they’ll set you up, they’ll hook you up with whatever advice that your garden needs. And they put on classes all the time. They are our choice stop over there on the east coast. So shout out to Grow Depot and find them online at growdepotva.com. Shout out to Grow Depot. We love Grow Depot. And we’ll see you guys soon out there in Virginia Beach. All right, let’s get into it with Grant. Thank you for listening, and enjoy the show.
Hello, podcast listeners. You are now listening to GrowCast. I’m your host, Jordan River. And I want to thank you for tuning in again today. Before we get started, as always, I urge you to share this show turned someone on to growing hit that little send link and send this episode to a medical patient. This is a great episode to share. And of course see everything we’re doing all of the action can be found at growcastpodcast.com/action. There you’ll see the seeds and the classes and the membership and all that good stuff. Today we are diving deep. It’s a deep dive everybody. You know I love the deep dives. But this episode is a little bit different. We’re taking a little bit of a turn off of the beaten path of cultivation education. But for very good reason. I don’t do episodes like this a lot. But this is important stuff to cover. Especially because here at GrowCast. Our whole mission is overgrow, our whole mission is expanding and protecting homegrown rights to get as many people growing their own cannabis at home as possible. That is the whole mission of GrowCast in the order of cultivation. So we don’t take many hard stances. But if you are out there, lobbying against home grow, if you are out there pushing back against these laws, well, we can’t stand for that. And there’s been some really, really interesting developments in this exact space. So today we’re going to be talking about a company that a lot of you have heard about, and it deserves its own episode as we explore the history of this company, and the new happenings that are going down as we speak. And for our guests a first time guest we have an expert on this subject. Grant Smith Ellis. He is a journalist. He is a disabled grassroots policy activist. He is an incredible cannabis activist. He is currently going to school, studies law at New England Law in Boston. And he is working hard, digging into this stuff in the cannabis industry and doing this hard snooping work, bringing this stuff to light. I’m super excited to speak to Grant. How’s it going, Grant? Can you hear us?
Grant Smith Ellis 3:59
I can and I’m so grateful to be here. As much as I love doing my journalism work. My heart is with home grow. I’m a patient myself. I love the work you all do. And I’m so glad to be with you today. Thank you for having me.
Jordan River 4:14
Oh, awesome, man. I am so excited to have you. We were talking a little bit off air about what’s been going on with this company, Curaleaf. If you’ve heard about Curaleaf listeners, they’re a huge cannabis MSO and they’ve been making headlines lately. So we’re gonna get into all of that, all of the alleged controversy that’s gone down. Before that, Grant, though, can you talk a little bit about yourself and what brought you into this line of work? And then we’ll get on to Curaleaf?
Grant Smith Ellis 4:42
Oh, sure. So yeah, my name is Grant Smith Ellis. I wear a bunch of different hats. I’m from Massachusetts. I’m a grassroots cannabis policy activist and the chair of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition. I’m a legal intern at the Parabola Center which is a public policy, Think Tank and then I also am a freelance independent journalist. But to be clear, I’m here in my individual capacity today. So I just want to get that disclaimer out there off the bat. As to my history, so I came in to the world of grassroots cannabis policy back in 2014 because I was in graduate school at the time, I was at Boston College. And I wanted to be a priest actually, and I was studying discourse theory, and I was developing novel ways of looking at the cogency of public discourse and in the framework of machine learning algorithms. But anyway, I felt disabled on May 6, 2014, due to a surgery that had gone wrong a few years before. And as a result of falling, becoming disabled, I was ripped out of my graduate school. I’ve been put on a completely different life path. And where I ended up was being one of the first medical cannabis patients in Massachusetts. And there were no access pathways back in 2013, 2014, 2015. So we relied on something called a caregiver, someone who can grow medical cannabis for a patient at home and then sell it to them pro bono. So just for the costs that went into growing the cannabis, right. Well, my caregiver that was helping me stay off some of the harder medications my doctors were trying to get me for my facial neuralgia, got named in a publication in our area and arrested by the Quincy police. And the reason my caregiver got named in that publication was because there was an astroturf group working for dispensaries regulated medical dispensaries in the state who didn’t like their patients like myself could get cheaper access to their medicine via that caregiver. And that’s how and from there the rest is history. But that’s how I got involved in grassroots activism.
Jordan River 6:45
That is insane. I cannot believe in this just exemplifies exactly what we’re talking about and exactly what we need to guard against, which is the cannabis community eating itself. I never thought it would be like this right? Our our enemy was always law enforcement and we stuck together. And then as soon as we come online, and get some sort of legality behind this thing, now suddenly, the dispensaries are attacking home grow. Producers are lobbying against home grow laws, dispensaries are attacking dispensaries, producers are attacking producers, it’s become so cutthroat. At the end of the day, they’ve lost sight of the patients, which is what you’re saying, now a patient can’t get his medicine. That’s I don’t know how those people can sleep at night. That’s really, really crazy.
Grant Smith Ellis 7:24
Well, their beds are probably very comfortable. And they probably take a lot of very nice drugs, if I had to guess.
Jordan River 7:31
Expensive bed. Some expensive drugs. There you go. So listen, man, we’re glad that you’re doing the work that you do. Grant has a Patreon. You can find him on Patreon. Let’s see. Let me get the what’s the address on that one, Grant, the URL?
Grant Smith Ellis 7:44
Oh, it’s all my social media will be Grant Smith Ellis. So Patreon is, patreon.com/grantsmithellis. I accept small donations for those folks who like independent journalism, and you’ll get my stories. Oh, I don’t know, maybe 30 minutes before they go public. But I also want to make something clear. All of my work is free to access so you never will have to pay to access my work. I believe that free access to that information is the only way as Jordan was saying to protect the integrity of our democracy and our republic. So even if you give me a small donation, you can still get the information for free. And it’s really just a way to get it a few minutes early.
Jordan River 8:21
Sure and support people like you, man, digging into this stuff because it gets pretty crazy. Before we get into the kind of bombshells that have dropped, let’s talk about Curaleaf. What do we know about this company, their inception. And when we realized that they maybe weren’t so focused on patient access and home grow especially?
Grant Smith Ellis 8:41
Yeah, so Curaleaf was not always called Curaleaf. It is a multi state cannabis operator that currently operate, well, operated in as many as 21 states as of a few weeks ago. But now I think that number is down to 18 or 19. But the company really started as something called PalliaTech, which was a firm co founded by, among others, Boris Jordan, a Russian, excuse me, an American citizen with Russian heritage, as well as another individual Andre Blokh. B-L-O-K-H. A Russian citizen, still lives in Russia to this day with very close ties to the Kremlin. And this company PalliaTech, went on to kind of consolidate around the country and none a number of existing cannabis companies. For example, in the Northeast where I am, there was Massachusetts organic therapies in Massachusetts, Maine organic therapies. And then there was a company in Connecticut around 2015 2016 called Curaleaf. And when PalliaTech, this entity owned by Boris Jordan, Andre Blokh and and others, consolidated ownership of all these different companies, they changed their name to Curaleaf. And that context alone would lead to a lot of rumbling both on social media and internally among industry insiders, that this company was really tied in to elements of Russian oligarchy of the Russian oligarchy that were problematic. However, none of that actually kind of got confirmed until a little bit later how but and I think we should talk about this. Before any of those Russian ties got confirmed, this company started to take a lot of posturing in the public policy arena that was very concerning. They were going around in states like Massachusetts, New York, and Maine, attacking homegrown caregivers attacking home grow rights, pushing for police task forces to target the unregulated market, trying to oppose initiatives to give access to local companies, to delivery licenses. And they kept doing this without really explaining why they were doing it. So you kind of have this combination of rumors swirling that this company is connected to these Russian oligarchs, and then all these public policy stances by the company that are really concerning. And that just led to what became a crescendo of concern, even earlier this year. And no one could really figure out why. So I think that’s kind of the background of what this company is and why folks were kind of ready for news to come out, even if they didn’t really have a full understanding, because the information wasn’t out there of what was happening and why.
Jordan River 11:27
I mean, I have some cultivators in my membership who have worked for companies like Curaleaf and Curaleaf, specifically like subsidiaries. And you’re right. Like I’ve heard these rumblings for a while. And that’s that’s how this stuff works. Now, when we talk about the lobbying against home grow, trying to take down caregivers, what does that look like? Can you give specifics here? Are they literally giving grants in exchange for these types of, isn’t a backroom deal? What does that look like when they apply their financial pressure?
Grant Smith Ellis 11:55
I think the best way to talk about this is, Maine. Folks who know about Maine love Maine. If you know anything about Maine’s medical caregiver system, it is a robust strong network of three to 4000 independent Mom and Pop caregiver net, shops that folks can even run out of their homes in some cases. There’s a great article by Mona Zhang in Politico, called a Maine’s Mom and Pop Cannabis Scene Sweats Corporate Gentrification. And if you read that political article, it will really give you all the context, I’ll give you the quick version, which is purely when it went into the Maine adult use market. Maine had medical before it had adult use saw these homegrown caregivers as a threat. And what they tried to do was go to Maine’s office of cannabis policy, it used to be called the Office of marijuana policy, and take over the decision making of that agency through, you know, influence peddling connections or otherwise, and try to make regulations that would have shut down 80% of the medical caregivers in Maine and taken away that access pathway, just so that Curaleaf adult use profits would have been higher because there wouldn’t have been competition in the market. Thank goodness, there was a coalition of advocates led by Dawson, Julia Susan, me Hanmer Kraus, so many others who came together as the cannabis Council of Maine, I think it was and went to state lawmakers in Maine and got a bill passed. This was two years ago called LD 1242. And that bill, at this was actually an example of a great grassroots victory, that bill prevented the regulatory agency from making any rule changes specifically so that Curaleaf couldn’t use their influence to shut down and destroy this Mom and Pop caregiver industry. That’s how it happens. It will happen in plain sight. And folks won’t actually be able to tell what’s going on because these big MSOs are very good at providing cover for themselves by getting folks to focus on extraneous issues, especially grassroots advocates, instead of the policy choices that they’re advocating for within those state houses.
Jordan River 14:08
Right. That seems to be the case. You know, we were talking about this on Instagram under a post. It’s like, if you put profits first, I don’t know, I don’t know how you act any other way. Right? You try to hamstring the competition. You try to destroy home grower rights, if you put profits first, that’s going to be the move every single time. Now I was raised that the way that you make money is that you create value, right? It’s not that you try to destroy your competition or legislate away any sort of competition. So you’re a monopoly. I was told that you create value. That’s how you, that’s how you do this thing. But this is not the approach that Curaleaf And these MSOs take. They’re not producing good flower. Their quality of flower is terrible. They tried to claim that white market flower is healthier. And I just didn’t have never bought that. I’ve seen way too many scandals and way too many quality home growers to ever believe that. So yeah, it’s just interesting. And this is the playbook right? This is the blitz that they’re running to get their shit done?
Grant Smith Ellis 15:03
Absolutely correct. And it’s not unique to cannabis by any means. This type of corporate entitlement to usurp our systems of lawmaking to centralize profit at the expense of market fairness and equity, is systemic throughout every industry in the United States and its own cut. And it’s because there’s a history dating back to the late 1800s, where corporations under the auspices of liberty of contract use took over the 14th Amendment, which was a amendment passed to benefit African Americans, black Americans after slavery ended, they took over that amendment and used it to absolve themselves of oversight by state regulatory and legislative authorities for 30 or 40 years. And so we are still as a country coming to terms with the fact that we basically lost this republic to this conflagration of moneyed factions about 125 or 130 years ago. And part of the way we’re having that reckoning with ourselves as a people is through debates, like what’s happening in the context of the cannabis arena, which is these companies go in and say, we’re going to ban home grow, we’re going to have police task forces to target the unregulated market, we’re going to be given a state sponsored monopoly. And then they get this fierce pushback and lawmakers are forced to react to that push back as our regulators and these companies are then put in a position where they have to say, Wow, we actually are being held accountable for our public policy position and we can’t just get our way because we have a lot of money and influence. That gives me hope that we’re moving in a good direction as a country, even if it’s requiring this uncomfortable moment of breaking on through, perhaps, as the doors would would call it.
Jordan River 16:47
Yeah, exactly. That’s exactly right. It’s always darkest before dawn. So this is our moment.
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Let’s get into some of the stuff that was popping up on the news as you said people not too surprised to hear some of these bombshells that dropped. Where do you want to start? One of the things that I heard was Curaleaf for allegedly using nuclear remediation. This is a, this is a strategy that cannabis producers use when their flowers are usually moldy, for instance, and they will use these remediation machines which are I believe radioactive, to kill this mold. What does that process look like? Was Curaleaf caught red-handed? Why do people use these *** crazy? I can’t imagine that this machine was cheap. Why not just grow good weed. What can you tell us? What can you tell us about this Curaleaf remediation scandal?
Grant Smith Ellis 19:05
Oh, sure. Yeah. So I think it’s important for folks to understand that what what happened to set off this kind of chain reaction of news stories that I’m sure folks have seen in some way or another like you mentioned about investigations into Curaleaf was that on December 22, 2022, Scott Steadman and Matt Bernardi of the investigative publication forensic news, published an article indicating that there was a Cyprus based investment firm that had been allegedly funneling money from sanctioned Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich, to Curaleaf in a way that was not being disclosed according to the relevant laws in a number of states by Curaleaf as a company, but to get to your point, and we’ll circle back to the Russian part of the investigation as well. What that initial December 22, 2022 article will sparked off was a series of interactions between myself and the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, which culminated on January 19 of 2023. In a on the record statement from the Commission, that they were aware of three allegations related to Curaleaf’s behavior that I had asked them about, and that there was an open inquiry in regards to those questions. Now, one of the questions that I asked them was whether curaleaf had been operating since 2019, and unlicensed human research lab in Newton, Massachusetts. That’s something we’ll get to in a second as well. But another question I asked, was the Russian question. And then the third question I asked was, are you investigating this company for using a rad source machine at their Webster Massachusetts cultivation facility without a approval? Now, I’m going to set aside the first two issues, the Russian financing and human research lab and just tell you about the RAD source machine.
Jordan River 21:01
Yeah, this sounds insane.
Grant Smith Ellis 21:03
Yeah, and you’re right in the cannabis industry, this is actually strangely common. And in Canada, in fact, almost all FDA flower is remedial remediated with a radiation machine.
Yeah, the Canadian government even has like disclosure requirements, you can look this up like on their cannabis regulatory oversight website. These firms have to disclose their use of these radiation machines and things like that. But in Massachusetts, cannabis companies if their flower is going to fail, we have very strict microbial contaminant standards, some of the strictest in the countries.
Jordan River 21:39
Yes, that’s one of the reasons I don’t like Massachusetts, is because if you grow in living soil, you’re going to fail. But you’re allowed to run your machine through a radiator, apparently, or maybe you’re not allowed you tell me?
Grant Smith Ellis 21:49
Well, it really hurts outdoor cultivators in particular, but we’re trying to work on it. But there’s another thing in Massachusetts, which we were that we have, which is very strict standards for molds, pesticides, etc, right? A lot of these companies Curaleaf, etc, can’t pass those either. And so they will remediate their flower in a machine, which is basically an x-ray counted or a rad source machine. That process itself, it’s problematic because it does two things to the bud. One, it because there’s heat involved, it converts THCa to delta-9.
Jordan River 22:25
Knocks that acid off, yeah, knocks the acid off of THCa. So it’s decarboxylated a little bit.
Grant Smith Ellis 22:31
Correct! And then the second thing it does is it compromises the terpene profile, which is not just the flavor, obviously, of the bud, but also its holistic sort of value 100%. Correct. So that’s kind of the risk of what it does to the plant. But then there’s this other issue of the fact that it can be used to kind of get product that would otherwise be contaminated onto the market. Now I want to talk a little bit more about a tangential issue to this, which is laboratory testing standards and sample selection. But before I get there, I want to get to what exactly is being investigated. [Yeah] We all have a little bit discussing right now on February 21, 2023, of hindsight. And I can actually tell you that since the initial allegations against Curaleaf, were brought to the CCC about using this rad source machine without permission, it then came out that it was actually the Massachusetts Department of Public Health that is responsible for issuing a certification after appropriate training as documented and other things to a cannabis company that wants to use this kind of radiation machine on their cannabis? Well, I find out that as of September 23, 2021, Curaleaf, was given just such a certification from the DPH. So I go to the DPH and I say, well, we have employees of this company alleging that this company was operating that rad source machine as early as 2020, which the DPH confirmed to me on the record, you can find this on my social media, that they have opened their own investigation just into the issue of whether this radiation machine was used at the Webster MA cultivation facility. And the reason this is a big deal is not just as we said, the fact that this was being used, consumers didn’t know about it, etc. But also the fact that there are allegations from staff that they were not provided adequate PPE, including things as basic as a Geiger counter until four or five months after the machine was installed.
Jordan River 24:23
Oh my god! So they’re using this machine without training, without anybody’s knowledge and without basic protective equipment. Is this now, listen, is this alleged to this get confirmed this is this is from testimony from employees is what you’re saying?
Grant Smith Ellis 24:35
This is the allegations from staff that are being investigated. And what I can say is that the investigation into the allegations is confirmed on record by the DPH in the context of this rad source machine in Webster, yes.
Jordan River 24:49
So I want to get back to that and if those investigations will ever mean anything but please continue on this on the subject of the radiation machine.
Grant Smith Ellis 24:57
Oh no. And I just wanted to clarify but the fact that the investigation is confirmed doesn’t obviously mean that the investigation has concluded. It’s just that there’s a confirmation those allegations are themselves being investigated.
Jordan River 25:10
Right, exactly. But like I said, man, if you’re plugged in, you’ve been hearing rumors about this, and that, you know what I mean? Like, listen, this is all alleged at this point. But can I say that I’m surprised at this investigation? Absolutely not. It’s interesting that they could have been using it, they just the fact that they were using it before they were supposed to, and maybe with that, without the necessary precautions, really, really wild. It just goes to show you that just growing quality flower isn’t even on their radar. Like they don’t need to buy these rad source machines, if they simply just respect the plant and grow quality flower. But it seems like that’s just not a possibility for these people.
Grant Smith Ellis 25:44
That’s a really good point. Because, I mean, Massachusetts indoor growing conditions are not impossible to navigate with the appropriate dehumidification and things like that, which is cheaper as an investment than a rad source machine. So there’s also just something that doesn’t logically make sense about it.
Jordan River 26:03
So yeah, it is really bizarre. That is quite bizarre, really wild stuff. So when we talk about these investigations, man, I worry about this. Because on the one hand, it’s like, okay, we’ll see if we can find wrongdoing, and see if people can be brought to justice and maybe make the cannabis community and industry a little bit better. But then I think about how investigations go, kinda like you said before in other industries. And it’s like, oh, the guy overseeing the investigation is the same guy, is the brother of the guy, is the cousin of the, do you think that this investigation is going to be unbiased and thorough and comprehensive?
Grant Smith Ellis 26:38
I think the only way to ensure that is the eternal vigilance provided by way of the cogent public discourse that surrounds the investigation as it unfolds. So the answer to your question is those type of pitfalls exist everywhere in our democracy, or in our representative form of government. And it is really on the basis of us as citizens, journalists, activists, advocates, and otherwise, to provide that check and balance, no one’s going to do it but us. If you leave these companies to their own devices, or the regulators to their own devices, of course, that kind of thing will happen constantly. But if it’s a symbiotic relationship, where the sort of dialectical form the thesis and the antithesis are meeting in the public sphere, and these regulatory agencies are forced to answer to the public, then the outcome, not just the outcome of the investigation, but the way it happens, can change. So that’s what I would say it’s not, it’s not the investigation. It’s how we, as members of the public provide a oversight of that ongoing investigation.
Jordan River 27:43
That is a really great answer, man. And that’s exactly why it’s important to get involved in the activism and why people who want to control the cannabis industry are afraid of that type of activism. I really liked that answer a lot. So okay, the mold remediation machine sounds pretty egregious, if true, but this next one is, this is the land of sci fi and fantasy. I mean, this literally sounds hype. sounds like hyperbole, but I know you don’t deal in the realm of hyperbole. A human testing lab and unlicensed human testing, like what does that even mean? What does that look like? What can you tell us about this scandal?
Grant Smith Ellis 28:17
Yeah, and let’s transition into that. But just to wrap up on the radiation machine, I promised I would touch on sample collection lab issues. [Oh, yes. Yes] And so there’s a big problem. And this is in a number of states where some of these companies or labs have this perverse incentive, not only to do this remediation, but also to knowingly pass contaminated product or inflate THC numbers, because these cultivators are allowed to select their own batch samples, right. So when you do cannabis testing, you don’t test every single bud or even every single ounce, you do batch testing. And if the cultivators allowed to select the sample that goes for batch testing, they can do things like dry it out, put Keef on it, etc, all of which are going to inflate THC percentage, and they can also make sure they pick up by it or trim it in a way that doesn’t have any mold or blight or whatever. [My god] That’s a huge problem because these testing labs, although they’re ISO certified, there’s no real check and balance on them either. So there is a very, very wide open loophole right now for a testing lab to attract new clients by basically saying, we’ll pump up your numbers and we’ll pass that product and as a testament to that, I don’t know if anyone called the Guinness Book of World Records but we saw 44% THC. As recently as like, six months ago.
Jordan River 29:38
That is so funny. This morning, I got a text from the flower farm, my man the flower farm, the SE ambassador, SE chapter ambassador for the order of cultivation, someone had posted a 50% thc auto flower, and it’s like that, first of all, that’s impossible. That is impossible with modern day genetics. You can’t have flower tested 50% THC with what we’re doing right now. So I’m not even sure it’s possible for the trichrome to naturally produce that much I would have to ask, you know, Nick or something like that. So these are just labs that are just lying is at the end of the day, do you pay these labs and say, give me 50%? It’s egregious.
Grant Smith Ellis 30:17
Yeah! Again, I think that’s the question a lot of regulators want to know. And so to loopback, one of the solutions being proposed is to create actually a standards lab, they have some of these in California and such, that doesn’t actually do testing of product commercially. But that oversees labs to make sure that they’re not manipulating their testing process to do what we’re talking about, which is attract clients by passing contaminated product and pumping up THC numbers.
Jordan River 30:43
It’s insane, man, this is this is a dystopian future of the cannabis industry. This is not what I thought it would be. It is absolutely wild.
Grant Smith Ellis 30:52
I don’t want to be too pessimistic here. Because I think that the very fact that we’re having these discussions are an indication that all hope is not lost. A lot of industries, this wouldn’t even be up for discussion. The very idea that corporations wouldn’t be able to do some of these things would be considered an insult to the quote unquote, free market, although as both you and I know, companies seeking profit, don’t make free markets. Government, informed, authentic, non corrupt government creates free markets by way of citizen oversight. So..
Jordan River 31:23
I’d love that dude, I could not agree more, man, you’re right. That is a really interesting point, which is this stuff happens all the time. I mean, dig into any industry go take a look at you know how meat is produced, or vegetables, or literally anything makeup? Like I’m sure there’s a there’s a dark horror story behind a lot of these industries. At least we’re bringing stuff to light and actively working on this. But yeah, moving on from the mold and remediation with radioactivity. What is the deal with these testing labs and human testing?
Grant Smith Ellis 31:52
Yeah, so human research lab in Newton, the allegation is, and this is being investigated, as well, according to the CCCs statement, although it didn’t mention it directly. It did say that there was an open inquiry in response to a question about this specific topic, dating back to 2019, Curaleaf is alleged to have been running a facility in Newton where they were illegally diverting product from their Webster cultivation facility, both you know, by having someone courier it and then also according to employ allegations, by way of the male diverting THC regulated product to Newton, then using that THC product for the purposes of creating things like experimental inhalers on experimental beverage and fusers, delta-8 and delta-9 shatters, and then and then without an internal review board, without a license or otherwise, according to staff, giving that product away under the auspices of free samples to employees for the purposes of human testing.
Jordan River 32:52
Oh my god! So they’re trying to work on a new THC inhaler, with product that was snuck away illegally, allegedly, and then giving these out as a bonus to employees to test it on them. This sounds listen, Grant, this sounds diabolical. This sounds like a supervillain.
Grant Smith Ellis 33:10
Well, there’s only one way the story could somehow get more ludicrous. And that would be for example, if the Cannabis Control Commission gave a provisional research license, the first of its kind to this very facility and company in November of 2022, which they did it.
Jordan River 33:22
Three years later.
Grant Smith Ellis 33:24
Jordan River 33:25
Wow! Wow, this is insane! And again, this is employee testimony at this point in his being investigated, same thing.
Grant Smith Ellis 33:33
Correct. This is allegations of staff that were brought to the attention of the commission, who then said on record, there was an open inquiry related to at the very least, this issue, the Russian financing issue. And then of course, the DPH rad source machine issue.
Jordan River 33:47
Oh, my goodness, uh, how many people were involved in this lab?
Grant Smith Ellis 33:51
Oh, I should say now that I want to be very clear. The CCC statement did not actually reference any of those three topics. But it was in response to a question about that. It’s very important. I say that. But yes, I think you just asked how many people were working in Newton, there was a team it was actually the, according to my sources, the location was run by Curaleaf director of research. So an actual salaried employee, the person is still with the company. And if you read my original reporting from January the 19th, on Patreon about this, you’ll see that I have it from sources within the company and from outside the company, that there were high ranking Curaleaf officials, including their director of testing, and their former Director of Safety and someone else who were internally raising concerns about this, this human research lab and the diversion of product and all of this. So I think that the CCC is going to have some very interesting discussions throughout the course of this investigation, if they choose to look into what exactly was happening in Newton from 2019 until 2022.
Jordan River 34:59
Sheesh, man, what a what a cluster F. I mean, I have no other way to put it. This is absolutely insane.
Grant Smith Ellis 35:06
Well, and I do want to make a point to which is that, this is not gratuitous. I am not opposed to giving employees access to cannabis regulated cannabis for free. In fact, in Massachusetts we have a quality control sample regulation. This is completely unrelated to the Curaleaf situation. But I’m gonna save just because I want the CCC to know I haven’t forgotten about it. We have a quality control sample regulation in Massachusetts that allows each employee of a cultivator or manufacturer to get up to 28 grams of flower, four grams of up to seven different strains per month, because our adult use possession limit per person is 28 grams. [Whoa] The CCC is currently interpreting that regulation to mean that every employee of the cultivator which can be 50 to 75 people, in some cases has to share that 28 gram allotment per month.
Jordan River 35:58
Oh my god!
Grant Smith Ellis 35:59
And last month at the public meeting, Commissioner Kimberly Roy was very kind to bring up my reporting on this quality control sample issue and say that the there needs to be more discussion about what the actual language means. And I know for a fact because I went into the minutes of the public meeting for the CCC in the summer of 2020. And I looked at the discussion in public meeting that the commissioners had at the time where they said, the 28 grams was supposed to be for each employee, not in total. And I also forgot to mention one other thing, folks may feel like I know a lot about the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, I broadcast every one of their eight hour long monthly public meetings for the past three years. So that’s where that context is coming from. But anyway, that was a complete aside. Thank you for the indulgence, I hope that quality control sample issue gets fixed soon because those employees are having their entitled, entitlement to free products stolen from them. And it’s wrong.
Jordan River 36:59
A 100%. And I want to be clear too, like you said, I’m only uptight because of their behavior and their grandstanding, right? Like when my buddy is working on honing his rosin cart technique, and he gives me a sample of something that he’s working on. I’m going to take it from him. The problem is these people produce boof. The problem is these people produce poison. I’ve seen these MSOs like Curaleaf, release moldy flower or Russia dry and put them in pre rolls and put them in tubes. And then they mold in the tubes. And they have to recall a bunch of product. I’ve gotten messages from people who grow with these MSOs and apply pesticides that they should not be applying are told to spray things in flower when they know they shouldn’t be spraying during the flowering stage. And then on top of that they’re grandstanding. And they’re saying no, we’re white market cannabis. We’re legal cannabis, your illicit cannabis. They’re taking the moral high ground and the quality high ground, which just isn’t true. That’s why giving away your first time run of THC inhalers to employees suddenly becomes a problem. I’ve never been given moldy weed by a home grower, I just have it. You know what I mean? I deal with home growers all the time, when they grow a moldy crop, they throw that shit out. Maybe sometimes they’ll find a way to get rid of the moldy parts and throw those out and take the rest of maybe concentrated into butter or a tincture. I’ve seen that done. I don’t know, 5% of the time, maybe less with home growers. They know to throw the shit out. And they know to grow better next time. So you don’t have to deal with that problem. So yeah, I don’t know, I don’t want to seem like I’m uptight or anything. It’s just that these people have a track record. These MSOs have a terrible, terrible track record. So yeah..
Grant Smith Ellis 38:32
You’re absolutely right. And to circle back where I was getting to was, I don’t have an issue with employees getting their free product. I am fully in support of that precise. But the reason why we have institutional review boards in this country, with regards to anyone doing human testing, is there is a horrific history of people taking advantage of that kind of human testing to do terrible, terrible, terrible things. And so it’s just a further indication of this company seeming apparent unwillingness to go along with the rules that we’ve set up among our society, whether it’s related to using this X-ray cabinet without permission, or allegedly or testing on human subjects without permission. And then trying to get a license to do that after the fact and things like that. It just shows a pattern time and time again, of looking at our rules not necessarily as something to be followed, but as something to be evaded. And I think that’s going to hit even more home when we get to this next issue, which is the big one, if that can even somehow be possible, which is the Russian financing not being disclosed to regulators.
Jordan River 39:39
A 100%. And I want to dig into this before I do that, I want to again highlight our values here. One of the reasons people like GrowCast is we steer clear of the following. We steer clear of these little points in the cannabis industry and especially the Grow community where we divide each other right autoflower versus photoperiod, we fight over things, organic growing versus salt base growing, you know cocoa versus soil. We have said that the most important thing is to ignore those little differences and stand together as a community. Again, I won’t take a hard stance against anybody on a pulpit, we avoid politics, for instance. The only time I put my foot down, is when you’re actively saying, you can’t grow at home, or you can grow less at home, or you’re putting you’re stymieing the free trade of genetics. These are the few things that we stand for, and we cannot tolerate and attack against. So that’s why it’s important for me to talk about this. But you tell me from the Curaleaf side, a lot of people were thrown off and taken aback by some of the financial backers, like you said, having ties to like straight up the Kremlin over in Russia. What can you tell us? What do we know about this at this point?
Grant Smith Ellis 40:48
Yeah. So let’s go back to the 1990s, which was folks know the United the USSR ended in 1991. And after that, sort of after communism ended, there were still a lot of interests around like the KGB, like Russia’s secret service didn’t go away. The money that was starting to be made under Boris Yeltsin, under what was called, ‘Glasnost’ and ‘Perestroika’ which was kind of like a hybrid form of communism and capitalism in the 80s. That didn’t go away either. So you have like this oligarchical sort of class and then you have like former KGB agents. And in the 90s and early 2000s, they fought a ruthless Game of Thrones, literally war for control of the Russian state. In the beginning of that time period, two of these gentleman that we’re talking about more actually, but to specifically Boris Jordan, Andre Blokh, and Roman Abramovich. They’re all kind of in this orbit in the 1990s. So one of them was a dairy magnate. One of them was an oil magnate. And the way that this sort of post Soviet system of, of money and government worked in Russia was oligarchs got chosen to basically get control of an entire industry. And if that sends a shiver down your spine, it absolutely should. They were basically handpicked to run entire industries.
Jordan River 42:14
You’re the oil guy, you’re the metal manufacturing guy, you’re the ammunitions. That sort of thing.
Grant Smith Ellis 42:19
You’re the dairy guy. And then they would make billions and billions of dollars. But in return, they would have to basically enable, for example, a KGB strong man like Putin to have a very firm grip on political power. Now, up until 2004, or so maybe there was some semblance of balance. The oligarchs had their control, the government, Putin at the KGB, what they think they’re called the FSB, now, they had their, you know, control and there was an uneasy balance. But after a series of events in 2004, which I don’t want to go into, but which involve like an apartment bombing in Chechnya, and this gassing of a theater in Moscow. After those things happened, Putin started to consolidate control. And as a result, there started to become tension between the oligarchs and Putin. And one of the casualties of this was the Curaleaf founder and current chief executive, or executive chairperson, Boris Jordan. And that’s really the background to what we’ll start talking about now, which is in December of 2022. I told you that Scott Steadman and Matt Bernardi reported that there were documents that they found through a reporting collective that indicated well, that confirmed according to their reporting, that Roman Abramovich, a sanctioned Russian oligarch still close to Putin, to this day, had as early as 2015, but through today, provided money to Curaleaf that was still being paid back. Now, this was a big problem, because it then set off a, we’ve talked about the investigation in Massachusetts, there are actually three ongoing investigations, at least right now into Curaleaf in three different states, the Connecticut consumer department of consumer protection, the Vermont cannabis Regulatory Authority and the Massachusetts investigators are all looking into this one issue about the financing, setting aside the Human Research Lab and rad source machine. This Russian financing issue is a big deal because surely it was under an obligation in some of these states. In Massachusetts, for example, it’s under 935 500 104 to disclose any direct or indirect ownership or control interest, and at no time, according to regulators in Vermont and otherwise, did Curaleaf disclosed that it had any indirect or direct financing from Mr. Abramovich or that it was continuing to pay back money to the tune of $2.6 million a month to Mr. Abramovich. Now these loans according to the reporting from forensic news, were in the hundreds of millions of dollars. And so that’s really, if we’re going to start the Russian discussion, that’s where it all kicks out these rumors, crescendo, and then all of a sudden, the documents come out. And now Curaleaf having to put out statements, you know, mocking forensic news saying their reporting isn’t so forensic, etc. But then state after state after state begins investigating, why didn’t this company disclose this connection? And should they have done so?
Jordan River 45:27
Well, this is incredible. And it opens my eyes to two things. First of all, that paints the picture that I needed to wrap my head around the machine, why are they needing to push everything out? Why is the quality so low and the pressure is so high? Well, it’s 100 $200 million loan worth the pressure. That makes perfect sense. You gotta keep that machine running. Gotta pay back 2.6 mil a month, or whatever you said, that clicks that side of it. Now what’s interesting is, so cannabis, and these MSOs like corporate cannabis, Curaleaf is now caught in this limbo space. Right? Which is we know that they’re being investigated on our side for their ties to this foreign government. But what you’re telling me is on the foreign government side, the, you know, quasi dictator over there is putting pressure on the oligarchies, which are the backers. So Curaleaf is getting pressured from both sides. You see what I’m saying? They’re, they’re floating in an island now.
Grant Smith Ellis 46:19
Yeah. And there’s a lot I want to talk about with that in the geopolitical context. But I want to wrap up the Russian ties issue first, because I think there’s a little bit more to it. I mentioned, Boris Jordan, I mentioned Andre Blokh. Some employees tell me that Andres son, David, dating back to 2014 2015, used to travel around to the different Curaleaf locations in different states. And then when this reporting started to break over the past month or two, I have it from sources that he just vanished from the company.
Jordan River 46:52
Grant Smith Ellis 46:55
I’m not just talking about his physical presence and talking about anything that would indicate he was ever there. That’s where I’m my sources telling me.
Jordan River 47:03
Well, that’s interesting. What was he like wiped from websites and things like that you should get on the Wayback Machine.
Grant Smith Ellis 47:09
I can’t get into details. But I will say that, that is very interesting to me. And then on the Russian issue as well, what’s really concerning about this, we talked a little bit about what oligarchs do, and the way they approach markets and how they think about what a government is supposed to do. And that is very concerning, in and of itself. Right. So that’s like, the big concern. But then we also need to think about the ramifications of, if this money is going out of the United States, and is even getting into Putin’s orbit, are we inadvertently funding this war of aggression against Ukraine, which is basically a NATO ally?
Jordan River 47:55
Well, there’s definitely some money being flowed there. And I would think that the the consumer might want to know, one way or another one thing about this country is you are allowed to as much as people might not want you to believe this, you are allowed to hold differing opinions, and you’re allowed to vote with your dollar. And I don’t know if Curaleaf exactly advertises or wants to advertise that some of its backers originate in Russia. That is very interesting stuff.
Grant Smith Ellis 48:18
Yeah. And we should talk about something as well, that happened this morning, which was, folks may have seen in the news that President Putin, Vladimir Putin of Russia gave his yearly state address today. And the big headline news that you’ll find right now, I mean, I don’t know what day you’re listening to this. But if you look back for the news, on February 21, 2023, you’ll see the big headline news was that Russia is going to continue its war in Ukraine, and they’re abandoning the New START treaty that restricts proliferation of nuclear warheads, which is very concerning. So rightfully, rightfully, headline news. But another thing that was said in that, in those remarks today was a comment by Putin about how the oligarchs who are being sanctioned by the West and losing all of their international investments and such deserve it. And I put up a post on my Instagram because there’s something we haven’t talked about yet here. Do you remember I mentioned how their Boris Jordan had a falling out with Putin in the early 2000s. After, after Putin started to consolidate more power, [right] Do you know what Boris Jordan did in 2007? [What’s that?] He started providing information as a confidential source to the US ambassador, the US Embassy in Moscow at the time.
Jordan River 49:38
Wow. How is even still alive? Well, enemy number one.
Grant Smith Ellis 49:44
Do you know what kind of information he was providing?
Jordan River 49:46
What was that?
Grant Smith Ellis 49:47
He wanted to explicitly foster better economic ties between Russia and the United States but reading between the lines, because there’s also stuff in there about how him and Putin out of falling out etc. And Putin trying to manipulate the elections in the Duma and such and such to consolidate power, which he ended up doing and becoming dictator for life like four years later, one gets the impression that the reason he would, Boris Jordan might have been of interest to the US government, is that there might have been a view that these oligarchs could be leveraged to prevent Putin from consolidating that power..
Jordan River 50:24
By tying them to the US, the more closely tied to the US they are, the more it takes power away from Putin.
Grant Smith Ellis 50:28
Correct. Developing economic ties, strengthens these oligarchs. It’s a win win, quote, unquote, because the West hedges against Putin’s influence, maybe even leads to revolution. The oligarchs get to make their money through international commerce, which they’re already doing, and they get to have industries. So one, well, let me keep going with this because we talked earlier about how this is dystopian and the stuff of Kafka novels and whatnot. But do you know who the American ambassador in Moscow was in 2007?
Jordan River 53:10
No, who’s that?
Grant Smith Ellis 50:58
There was a guy by the name of William Burns. Do you know what William Burns does today? He goes by Bill Burns, actually, [oh, boy. He’s great. stand up comedian now, who is] He’s a director of the CIA. [Get the *** out of here.] Yeah. And so one could easily speculate or imagine a situation whereby the United States Government dating back to, I don’t know, 2007, or whatever starts developing relationships with alienated old Russian oligarchs, or very wealthy people in their circles. Maybe those relationships start to evolve over the next 5, 10, 15 years. And they take the form of hands off treatment to you know, in the context of say things like, using radiation machines without permission, or running human research labs, or whatever, one mighty zoo without any oversight. And then we get to a point where Putin loses a completely declares war and these intelligence agencies that have been cultivating these relationships, for the purpose of trying to tactically take this, you know, this strong man down, now we’re left holding the bag where they’re working with really evil people who have dual loyalties who will funnel money to those efforts to keep themselves alive. And if you want to know what’s even more interesting, you can look this up in the Wall Street Journal or otherwise, the sanctioned oligarch at the center of all of this, Roman Abramovich, there’s two interesting things about him folks should know. One, he’s sanctioned in the EU, the UK, etc. He’s not sanctioned in the US. The only thing the US DOJ has done is cease to have his jets. [Wow!] This guy worth billions and billions of dollars. So that’s weird. This is a man who was forced to sell Chelsea Football Club in the UK because of his association with Putin. [Wow. He’s on our good list for some reason.] Well, it’s also very interesting to note because you would think well, if these oligarchs were really attempting to work with the West and foment resistance to Putin, when they have consequences, we’ll take a look in the Wall Street Journal in any other number of major publications for an article within the last year, Roman Abramovich, poisoned, poisoned, for attempting to conduct negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, like formal government diplomatic negotiations, he was poisoned.
Jordan River 53:14
I remember that. That is insane. I mean, this is crazy, Grant. How do we end up here? This is the part that tears me apart as somebody who’s just a grower and a broadcaster, which is, this is a flower that comes from a seed. And then here we are $2.6 million monthly payment to the Russian oligarch. You know what I mean, here we are going lenient on Russian oligarchs and geopolitical warfare. What the [censored] are we talking about here, man? You know what I mean? Like, do you ever get do ever get a little lost in the sauce? Do do you ever? You ever find yourself spinning out a little bit over this?
Grant Smith Ellis 53:50
Yes, yes. I’m just making, making connections. And I’m very, I’m actually I mean, this is clear. I’m very loyal to this country. I’m loyal to the integrity of this republic. My work is fundamentally in service of the integrity of the lawmaking process so that patients and regular people are given a voice at the table that these oligarchs feel they can just buy with money and influence. So when you say, how are we here? I totally agree with you. It’s so intense to think about this plant that we can grow in our house and then that you know, is so it brings together so many people on such a wonderful level, can also then be weaponized as a commodity in international markets, and then leveraged by our government to sort of lead us into a situation where now we’re talking about our regulators in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Connecticut going to find out that this company Curaleaf was breaking the law nonchalantly because they felt they were protected by the US government. That’s how markets work. It’s not just the cannabis market. It’s not just the alcohol market. It’s not just the tobacco market. It’s not just the railroads. It’s everything. If you look for example, if you look at the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, just that’s going on right now, that is a, if we if you dug into it like we just dug into this Curaleaf situation, you would find the same exact thing, a large company, maybe not the Russian connection, who knows maybe a large company or a large company with a lot of political influence who was nonchalant about compliance, and then ignored their own employees, begging them to put public safety first, which led to a situation that caused a catastrophe. And with East Palestine, Ohio, that is horrific, and terrifying in its own right because of the environmental and human impact that’s going to have, but with this Curaleaf situation, one thing we didn’t even mention, was if you go read the vice world news article, or the Barron’s article or any other number of articles about this Curaleaf situation, you’ll see that Abramovich wasn’t just investing in purely it was Tilton acreage, it was flow hub. It was a number of companies. These oligarchs were going in our government apparently was comfortable with it. If this is all true, these oligarchs were going to come into this country and try to entrench that same viewpoint that they’ve brought into Russia and every other country in the world, which is that governments serve the pleasure of the corporations that can win a ruthless, ruthless game of market centralization, and then pull up the ladder so that no one else can ever compete. And then that’s where we get things like police task forces, anti homegrown laws, opposition to caregivers, so we are fighting for something that is central to the cannabis plant. But we’re also fighting for the larger project of this republic, which apparently our politicians just will sell off to the highest bidder, especially if they see it’s in the service of kind of overthrowing some foreign dictator, which is important. But as citizens of the United States, if we don’t make our voices heard that there needs to be some consideration of the impact of those kinds of geopolitical decisions, we’re going to get an Iran Contra again, we’re going to get a you know, I n de assassination, again, we’re going to go back into that era, where our government operates with no checks and balances in the service of the wealthiest corporations, not just of the United States, but of the world. And in this case, apparently, even companies, sending projects, sending money to sanctioned Russian oligarchs supporting our enemy.
Jordan River 57:28
Man, that was really well said I could not have said it better myself. And so I want to wrap up with what can we do? What can this audience do? You know, I try to keep my mission simple, Grant, because I can’t, I don’t know maybe I don’t have the intellectual capacity to keep up with all this geopolitical stuff. So I just said, well, what can I do? I try to get people to grow their own. I try to get people to give other people medicine to get other people growing their own. I mean, what can we do in your estimation?
Grant Smith Ellis 57:53
Well, now I think we’ve come to the perfect point of the discussion, because it’s the cogency of the way we talk about this stuff that ends up changing history. And, you know, don’t downplay your capacity by any means, because you throughout this entire conversation had been right there, not only with me, but you’ve been taking this discussion to another level. And that shows the key sort of takeaway here. When these issues come up. It’s not just being informed about any one issue. It’s the general approach you take to consuming information in the modern world. And we are blessed to live at a time where we can at any moment within our, you know, without getting up from our chair, experience five to 10 perspectives on the same exact topic, in a matter of minutes. And from those 10 perspectives, if we practice this art form over and over and over again, we can start to pull out what is kind of narrative in those perspective and what is truth and that’s what I would say, is the best thing people can do, be an active, informed consumer of information. And by virtue of what you talk about online, with people in real life or otherwise, you can shift the outcome of something like a regulatory investigation or a legislative debate, a small number of well meaning people can absolutely change the outcome of some of these high stakes issues. It’s just a matter of your willingness to step up. Take part in the process and realize that all of the information coming at you, as overwhelming as it may seem, is actually a tool for you to stop these corporations from leveraging their money to take away your home grow rights or attack caregivers or otherwise.
Jordan River 59:50
I love it, man. I absolutely love it, Grant. This was an epic appearance! Where can my audience find more of you and your work? Shout out the Instagram, the Patreon everything.
Grant Smith Ellis 59:57
Oh, I had an awesome time too. You can find more from me, twitter.com/grantsmithellis. I’m pretty active there Instagram, Grant Smith Ellis, Facebook, the same. My work also appears on the Patreon. You can get it for free. But if you want to give a small donation, that’s great as well. And then each month, I myself and Eric Casey from Burn After Reading, which was a great substack grassroots reporting done in Massachusetts, we broadcast on the first or second Thursday, the CCC hearing, you can find that on facebook.com/grantsmithellis, or on Eric Casey’s LinkedIn. Thank you again for having me. These topics are tough to engage with even tougher to discuss in a succinct format. And we covered so much today. I’m going to have a wonderful rest of my afternoon.
Jordan River 1:00:43
Thank you, man, I appreciate you coming on the show. This was totally eye opening. And we just have to discuss this stuff. You know what I mean? This is a cultivation show. But this stuff matters to us. So when there’s breaking news like this, you’re gonna be the first person we call, Grant. We’d love to have you back in the future. And one more time. Thank you, buddy.
Grant Smith Ellis 1:00:59
Great. Well, we’ll talk again when we get some updates on these Curaleaf investigations.
Jordan River 1:01:03
Sounds great. Stay tuned for that, listener. You know what to do. Hit the subscribe button, if you haven’t already. You can find us on any podcast app as well as Spotify, iTunes, wherever we are there. Growcastpodcast.com is the website forward slash list you can get on the green list for free. And I’ll see you guys at the next event. Stay tuned everybody this is Grant Smith Ellis and Jordan River signing off, saying have an extraordinary day. We’ll see you next time. Be safe and grow smarter.
That’s our show. Thank you so much everyone and thank you to Grant an amazing first time guest again we will be right back to the cultivation education but I absolutely had to cover all these insane happenings. So before we go today, I do want to tell you about everything that’s going on now I mentioned of course the new FEM line available at growcastpodcast.com/seedco, membership is open through this weekend. You can jump in get hundreds of hours of bonus content, discounts on seeds and dyno Miko and grow bags and all sorts of member discounts that’s at growcastpodcast.com/membership. Come on in join the order of cultivation we’d love to have you and of course our classes growcastpodcast.com/classes. We are in Rockford this Saturday. Come and see us Rockford, Illinois for the breeder class. This is an awesome class because not only do we arm you with the knowledge to get started breeding in the confidence that we give you a breeder kit including a bunch of genetics to get started. And it’s a variety of different cultivars, and you get yourself some pollen jars of some limited edition stickers and we get you started off right. So come on down and see us we’re in a bunch of other cities after that we’ve got the IPM class it’s all a growcastpodcast.com/classes. Thank you so much, everybody. We’ve got some natural farming content coming up. We’ve got Dr. Coco returning, Marybeth Sanchez coming back on the show. Nick is coming back some big episodes planned so don’t touch that dial. Continue to do amazing things in your garden and stay tuned to GrowCast. Thanks everyone. Have an awesome day out there. Bye bye.