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August 7, 2023

Connecticut cannabis company emerges as multistate operator

PHOTOS | CONTRIBUTED A customer purchases cannabis at Fine Fettle’s Stamford dispensary. Cannabis retailers can pay an effective tax rate of up to 80% because they’re not allowed to deduct business expenses on their state or federal tax returns.
Fine Fettle at-a-glance
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A locally grown cannabis company is expanding its reach as a multistate operator.

Hartford-based medical and adult-use cannabis retailer and grower Fine Fettle, which currently operates in Connecticut and Massachusetts, has its sights set on another emerging market: Georgia.

The four-year-old company is nearing the debut of a 118,000-square-foot cultivation and extraction facility in Macon, Georgia.

Construction began last year.

Ben Zachs

Fine Fettle Chief Operations Officer Ben Zachs said the company’s Georgia license also allows it to open five medical marijuana dispensaries in The Peach State.

“We’ll be a vertically-integrated operator — all of the licensees (in Georgia) are,” Zachs said.

Georgia has a strict cannabis industry. The state legalized medical marijuana in 2015, but doesn’t allow the recreational sale or use of the drug.

The sale of medical cannabis flower, edibles and other products is also outlawed under Georgia state law.

The first medical dispensaries in Georgia opened in late April. As the state’s cannabis patient population grows, companies can open more dispensaries: one for every 10,000 new patients after the 25,000-patient mark.

The executive team

Richard Carbray

Fine Fettle was co-founded by Zachs and longtime pharmacists Richard Carbray and Margie Giuliano.

Carbray, who was a member of the state’s Commission of Pharmacy when he was recruited to join the company, is Fine Fettle’s CEO. He formerly owned and then sold two retail pharmacies, and also was a former UConn board of trustees member.

He currently sits on the board of UConn Health.

Giuliano is Fine Fettle’s chief compliance officer, and was a longtime top executive of the Connecticut Pharmacists Association.

Zachs declined to name the company’s outside funding sources but said Fine Fettle has a “close network of investors.”

Zachs is the son of Eric Zachs and grandson of Henry Zachs, both prominent Hartford area businessmen and philanthropists. Eric and Henry Zachs are listed as principals in limited liability companies tied to Fine Fettle, state records show.

Expanding footprint

Since opening its first retail location in 2019 — a medical marijuana dispensary in Willimantic, at 1548 W. Main St. — Fine Fettle has grown from 12 employees to about 180 full-time and 20 part-time staffers today across all of its locations.

Zachs declined to disclose the company’s annual revenue but pointed to Fine Fettle’s employment increase as an indicator of business growth.

In 2020, the company entered the Massachusetts market, where it currently operates two hybrid retail stores, an indoor cultivation facility, and an outdoor farm and processing plant.

Fine Fettle is seeing its most significant growth in its home state, where it has four dispensaries. Three — in Newington, Stamford and Willimantic — are hybrid retail sites serving recreational and medical customers, while one, in Manchester, serves only the adult-use market.

Fine Fettle has plans to open two more Connecticut recreational dispensaries — one in Norwalk, at 191 Main St., and another in Old Saybrook, at 233 Boston Post Road. Those sites have already received local zoning and building approvals and are expected to open later this year.

Part of its Connecticut growth is being fueled by the state’s equity joint venture program, which allows an existing medical cannabis company to partner with qualified social equity applicants to open new businesses without going through the lottery process. The social equity applicant, who needs to meet certain low-income and other criteria, must own at least 50% of the venture and have daily managerial responsibilities.

Fine Fettle’s Manchester dispensary, which opened in February, was the state’s first equity joint venture business. It is led by Hartford resident Kennard Ray, who spent time in prison for drug- and gun-related convictions when he was younger, before turning to a life of entrepreneurship and advocacy.

Fine Fettle is also planning to open a Bloomfield cultivation and production facility at 10 Mosey Drive. The 45,600-square-foot building will be erected from the ground up, on a 10.41-acre property. Between 18,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet will be reserved for grow space.

The facility will have nine rooms for flowering, three for vegetation, three for drying, and one each for curing, trimming and packaging. It will also include a large cannabis extraction room.

Zachs said the company has all of its local zoning approvals from Bloomfield, and has submitted final plans and paperwork for approval to the state Department of Consumer Protection.

“Then we’ll be able to finalize and go from schematic drawings to true construction drawings with a plan to build soon,” Zachs said.

The goal is to break ground on the Bloomfield facility in late-summer or early-fall, Zachs said, and the build out is expected to take up to 11 months.

After that, Fine Fettle can begin growing and producing cannabis for the state’s adult-use market.

“I’d really love to see product in the market by 2025,” Zachs said. “It takes a long time to build these things — these projects are no joke.”

Beyond the planned dispensaries in Norwalk and Old Saybrook, Zachs said Fine Fettle is looking for additional Connecticut retail locations. It would also like to add different license types in the state to establish its own vertically integrated supply chain.

Fine Fettle could also consider expanding into other states, if it fits into the company’s strategic plan.

“Those limited license medical states are where we like to get our start, so we’re looking in those markets, but not expanding just for the sake of expanding,” Zachs said.

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