This dispensary has closed.
Alpine Herbal Wellness isn't trying to attract the average-Joe medical patient with its slick, art gallery-meets-medical clinic atmosphere. I picture affluent baby-boomers walking to it from their million-dollar townhomes, Bernese mountain dogs in tow.
Alpine Herbal Wellness
Location: 313 Detroit St. Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday. Phone: 303-355-4372 Website: alpineherbalwellness.com Owner: Nick King and Susan Harank. Raw marijuana price range: $35 to $60 per eighth, non-member. Other types of medicine: Edibles, hash, budder, tincture. Handicap-accessible? Yes.
For being out in the open in Cherry Creek, Alpine Herbal Wellness is relatively discreet. It easily blends in with the knickknack stores surrounding it, aside from the sign above the door and a few printed pages of information on cannabis and herbal medicine in the front window. I walked in and was greeted by the extremely nice Judy, who also doubled as my budtender after my paperwork went through.
The office is tri-level, with a reception area to the left and a meeting room to the right as you walk in. Judy said that the shop doesn't have handicap access upstairs but can adapt by bringing a tray of bud samples down to the conference room for mobility-impaired patients. The second level offers a small lounge area with a few chairs and end tables for use when filling out the paperwork. There's also a large message board featuring fliers about various health ailments and a Mac set up on a desk against a small wall leading to the third floor for patient Internet browsing. It's the type of ephemera that is helpful for older patients who are likely to have a lot of questions about something they had been told their whole lives was an illegal drug useful only for getting high. The rest of the wall space is dominated by various abstract paintings.
Budtender Judy finished up copying my paperwork and led me up the second set of stairs to the bud bar. The place is set up to handle multiple customers, and their bar is more like the cashier stand at a casino, with three or four individual stations set up in the middle of the room. To the left are a few glass cases with pipes, vaporizers and other puffing paraphernalia. I saw a few third-party waxes and oils, as well as a big Keef Cola display. But otherwise, I didn't pay much attention to the edibles (as usual).
The bud is displayed as samples in spice jars under a glass countertop at each of the bud stations. The budtender slides the tray of spice jars out like a cash register drawer every time you want to see a cut. This made for a lot of "let me see that one" instead of simply grabbing for it and smelling it. Judy made sure to share her thoughts on each strain, occasionally admitting to not having tried a few. Within a few minutes, I had nearly a dozen of the strains on the counter, including a decent Grape Ape, a not-so-purple Purple Haze, an unappealing Big Wreck and some interesting Moby Dick.
Judy also pointed out the two $35 sale strains on hand and went into the pricing structure -- and that's where the shop started to lose me. For starters, Alpine has a $55 cap on meds for members and $60 for non-members. High prices are one thing, but high prices for herb that can be found at any average shop seemed a bit absurd to me.
Harank and co-owner (and husband) Nick King both pointed to the price war among dispensaries as artificially deflating the price of quality cannabis. King also said harder-to-grow strains like long-flowering sativas take more time, and therefore are often more expensive than other strains. True in theory, but why should patients who need a strong sativa have to pay more than patients who need a strong indica? Both also admitted that one of the biggest factors in their pricing is the type of clientele they tend to attract with their location and mission. As Harank says, "They are willing to pay for the quality medicine, the environment, the education and all of that."
But am I? Sometimes. Rarely, though, and only if the cannabis is good enough. As recently as a few weeks ago, I didn't bat an eye at the $60 price tag on some top-notch cannabis -- though to be fair, member pricing at that dispensary was capped at $45. Alpine Herbal Medicine, unfortunately, just wasn't at that level. In fact, some of the pricing seemed downright baffling. Asking members to pay $55 an eighth for things like mid-grade Lemon Skunk was hard to stomach -- even harder at $18 per gram. (That's a markup of about a buck and a quarter.) I've said this before: Charging more for the same meds just because people want to buy smaller amounts is hardly fair to patients.
Still, Harank and King must realize they can't remain competitive at this rate -- even in Cherry Creek -- because both said they're working on a lower price structure. A big part of the shift, Harank said, is that they have been working to build out their grow and streamline their harvesting process. The changes don't take effect until the start of August, though. So unless you really like overspending, I'd shop elsewhere for the next month.
Lemon Skunk: $55/eighth The prized jewel of the Alpine Herbal Wellness center's collection the day I was in. I grabbed it not because of how appealing it was -- because it was truly nothing special -- but because it was the highest-priced in-house strain on the shelves. What should be the best thing I brought home (based on the price) ended up being the most bland, warehouse-y bud of the bunch. It had a compressed, bagged-up appearance. Broken up, it exuded the stinky musk of skunk and hippy B.O. -- but I like to see crystals covering my desk when I crack a nug open, and this left none. Out of the bubbler, it had a zippy, lemony taste to the first hit, a skunky/hashy taste to the second and a dull, charcoal taste to everything after. The price didn't help my opinion of this cut, which shouldn't be any higher than their mid-shelf.
Purple Haze: $40/eighth The cheapest strain I took home ended up being one of the better deals of my visit. Not much purple to it, and I question what the strain really is considering the Diesel-like nose to the nug. It wasn't as turkey bag-looking as the Lemon Skunk, but it still didn't leave my desk dusted or my fingers sticky. Still, breaking it up brought out more of the rubbery, tennis-ball funk as well as a nose-ticking hazy spice. Much more full taste and smell on this cut, with a fruity haze lingering in the office after the bowl. A bit rough on the throat, but overall, it provided the best for-the-buck bang out of the three. The strain left me with a heavy, face-melty buzz that lingered for 45 minutes or so before mellowing out into a calming buzz for the rest of the evening.
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Moby Dick: $45/eighth 'Eff the whale: This name instantly reminds me of the awesomeness that is Led Zeppelin's John Bonham, a thunderous powerhouse of a drummer who, even in death, continues to blow the minds of thirteen-year-olds toking joints out their bedroom windows. Budtender Judy assured me this was a sativa knockout worthy of headphones and air-guitar playing. The cut looked a lot like Island Sweet Skunk in color and structure, but it had more of a citrus-like, sugary-sweet finish to the smell and taste. Expansive in the lungs, the first hit took over my head instantly and gave me serious cotton mouth. Good for soothing a very sour stomach Wednesday morning, but I could barely peel my tongue off the roof of my mouth talking with editors an hour or so later.
William Breathes is the pot pen-name for our wandering medical marijuana dispensary critic. Read more of his reviews on our Mile Highs and Lows blog.