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    Tuesday, April 16, 2024

    A new dispensary aimed to help on many levels

    Colchester — Not to quibble with Colin Powell here, but his line, “all the great ideas and visions in the world are worthless if they can't be implemented rapidly and efficiently,” clearly hadn’t considered the concept of opening an adult-use cannabis dispensary.

    Rapidly and efficiently? Try patiently and then even more patiently. On top of paperwork that rivals the tax codes. Education about the various products. Deep dives into social equity. Occasional self-doubt.

    But then with a little luck, as Wings once sang, this group of mostly old sports guys is about to make the whole damn thing work out.

    And so Friday at 10 a.m. in Colchester comes the debut of “The Harvest Corner,” the result of more than a year’s worth of effort from Gordon Videll, Bill Buscetto, Isaak Lazarou, Jimmy Romano and the rest of HWY 95 team.

    “Unbelievable amounts of work and paperwork and hoops to jump through and everything else,” Buscetto said. “There's just so much that's going on.”

    It was Buscetto, in talking with some old friends and contacts, who originally pondered the idea. But then, it’s a leap across the abyss from ideas scribbled on the back of a cocktail napkin to the real-life, roll-up-the-sleeves, hurry-up-and-wait rhythms accompanying the sale of what the euphoric plants produce.

    “I’m thinking about how I’d ever be able to put a great team together,” Buscetto said. “The funny part is that I’ve never done it (use cannabis products) in my life. Nothing. Crazy, right? I didn't know much. We had to do a lot of research and talk to a lot of people.

    “The first call I make is Gordon, because we’ve done plenty of deals together. If I do a deal that needs vetting, I trust him implicitly with anything.”

    Among the first requirements to open a dispensary is to satisfy the state’s social equity piece. A “social equity applicant” for a social equity joint venture requires the establishment be “either at least 50 percent owned and controlled by one or more individuals who lived in a disproportionately impacted area for either at least five of the past 10 years or nine of their first 17 years of life.”

    Enter Lazarou (New London) and Romano (New Haven), who grew up in areas of their respective cities that qualify under state regulations.

    “I actually remember the day Billy asked. We were having lunch. I thought, ‘let's give it a shot.’ But we're gonna have roles,” Lazarou said. “The people we're with (Still River Wellness, a well established medical dispensary in Torrington) are great because they have the experience and are training us to do this right. I'm learning this stuff every day and don’t know how anyone could do this without that support.”

    Romano, who retired in 2015 as a 20-year probation officer and then opened a private investigation company: “When Billy called me, I was seven years at the private investigation company and I was kind of winding down. When he proposed this to me, I’m like ‘why not?’ So that's how one thing led to another. The training is overwhelming. It's more than what everyone thinks. We're dividing and conquering.”

    As Buscetto put the team together, Videll, a prominent attorney and entrepreneur, went to work on the building, located in the Tri-Town Plaza, where Routes 16 and 149 meet. And darn, if Buscetto didn’t learn that Bobby Joyce, an old Little League teammate (Lincoln Oil) is the National Director of Construction for Trulieve, a top-performing, nationally known cannabis company.

    “This business is very dependent on the real estate and having the support of the host town. We received enormous support from the town of Colchester and were able to start construction in June,” Videll said. “Then you’ve got to go through the Dept. of Consumer Protection process which is enormously detailed and safety driven. That's the biggest hurdle.

    “The Social Equity Plan is designed to benefit non-profits in a disproportionately impacted area. All of this has been a team effort. One thing the town and state have liked about our group is that we’ve been incredibly upfront with them from the beginning. They have been phenomenal working with us.”

    They’re aware of the stigmas that accompany the business. Maybe that’s been their biggest education of all. This is really about helping people on layered levels.

    “I honestly thought it was like drinking a few beers,” Buscetto said. “But the more I talk to people, talking to them about pain relief and calming anxiety, I got the chills. A lot of people talk how it helps them sleep at night. I didn't know all this. Due diligence, right?

    “The thing I struggled with was, well, I'm a baseball coach (running the successful “Batter Up” Baseball Camp every summer). I work with kids. So I want to be very careful with my involvement and what people think. I wanted to research a lot of this.

    “Doctors are telling me more of their patients are prescribed on this or that. We've got an extensive security system. Everything is on camera and regulated,” Buscetto said.

    Videll, whose father died of an overdose, was also challenged as to his involvement by his kids.

    “I told them that you never know what you buy on the street and people need access to regulated products,” Videll said. “The bonus is substantial revenue for Colchester and an opportunity to give back to New London organization, including New London youth sports programs. Also to subsidize community center access and ‘’The Place’’ recently opened by Ledge Light Health District.”

    HWY 95 also chose The Community Foundation of Southeastern Connecticut, which will receive $1 million to be distributed for the benefit of disproportionately impacted areas including New London and Norwich.

    “We want people to be comfortable,” Buscetto said. “If somebody who has never experimented with cannabis walks in off the street and says ‘I need something to help me sleep at night,’ There's going to be somebody there and we’re going to personalize the experience.’”

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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