When retail cannabis sales were just starting in Colorado a half-dozen years ago, most of the weed we bought was grown by the dispensary from which we purchased it. Did that mean all of it was good? Hell, no, but at least we could put a face to the buds.
A lot has changed in six years, with updated laws and an evolving industry leading to more wholesale growers. Most dispensaries now get their cannabis from a variety of sources, and that's largely for the best (we all love options), but it's still gratifying to try things at the source. After all, if I go to a brewery, I want beer made by the brewery I'm visiting, not another one seven miles away. The same goes for a pot shop — if what it's growing is good, that is.
Lucky for us, a lot of dispensary growers know what they're doing. Some have loyal followers willing to drive over an hour for flower, and some produce such good weed that other stores would rather buy it wholesale than grow their own.
Here are eight of our favorite dispensary cultivations in Denver:
5301 Vasquez Boulevard, Commerce City
Relatively new to Denver's cannabis scene, this Commerce City shop wasted no time shooting up local cannabis connoisseur power rankings. KrystaLeaves is operated by the Fernandez family, who moved to Colorado from Miami and worked on preparing their grow and dispensary for over two years before opening for business, with son Alex leading the cultivation side. Alex's grandfathers grew tobacco in Cuba, and like his elders, Alex grows something worth a trip — just for the chance to roll up and smoke it. KrystaLeaves is one of the few pot shops selling multiple phenotypes of the same strain, allowing you to try several different slices of Layer Cake or Frozen Lemons.
House of Dankness
10555 East 45th Avenue
If you don't trust our opinion on House of Dankness, just look at the countless other dispensaries that carry genetics and flower born from the hand of Scott Reach, the brain behind House of Dankness and Rare Dankness seeds. Rare Dankness creations like Ghost Train Haze, Jenny Kush and Tangerine Kush have spread far beyond Denver, even into other states and countries — but you want to visit the mothership in north Denver. Dark, piney buds are the specialty here. Any seasoned toker looking for potent cuts of Kush and OG strains will feel right at home.
2117 Larimer Street
2042 South Bannock Street
Denver Recreational Dispensary (Den-Rec for short) is one of the few bright lights in downtown Denver for cannabis shoppers seeking elite weed. Head grower Ryan Buffkin couldn't care less about THC testing results, with Den-Rec strains ranging anywhere from 10 to 20-plus percent THC; it's all about smell, flavor and exotic strains here. Four Kings, an OG-heavy strain hard to find outside of Den-Rec, is a top nighttime choice, while Tropic Thunder, a rare take on Maui Wowie, is a delicious move for daytime activities. Den-Rec also sports hard-to-find varieties of the Cookies family, including Guava and Spumoni Pie.
4380 East Alameda Avenue, Glendale
I swore off Colorado Boulevard for good after moving from the east side of Denver — unless I'm going to Kind Love, that is. Potent, tasty and visually striking, Kind Love's flower is one of the safest bets in town (so don't be afraid to pounce on whatever strain is on sale, because you pay for quality here), carrying the same effects and flavor notes every time I take Kind Love nugs home. Alien Rock Candy, Gogi OG, Tiger's Milk and Bordello hold soft spots in my heart, all because of Kind Love. Home growers and other stores agree: Kind Love also operates a wholesale grow and clone bar, which is bare almost every time I visit.
380 Quivas Street
It feels weird calling any cannabis business an old head, but that's essentially what L'Eagle has become on this list. Amy and John Andrle's dispensary has been a regular winner in our annual Best of Denver issue since the medical-only days, and our cravings for its Texas Hash Plant and Strawberry Cough haven't subsided. One of the few cannabis businesses to receive a Certified Green designation from the City of Denver, L'Eagle grows weed that burns pure and tastes terpy, and its budtenders always seem to hit that perfect combo of hippie, pot nerd and helpful staffer, without being pushy. (I take my mom here, for whatever that's worth.)
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5101 East Colfax Avenue
302 Pearl Street, Boulder
Our affinity for Verde's cuts of well-known and obscure strains is documented, as is our respect for Verde's founder and cultivation mastermind, Chuck Blackton, who claims to have created Lemon Skunk after an old-school education in Amsterdam. Blackton's love of plants shows in Verde's buds. His renditions of Hazelnut Cream and Bubble Jack, both of which I discovered three years ago but still have an eye-opening effect, are forever stash-worthy, and that's just the start of the delights at Verde.
High Level Health
Four metro locations
Most chain dispensaries aren't known for quality, but High Level Health's recent expansion into downtown and Clear Creek County hasn't affected the grow's ability to pump out good weed. You can't go wrong with the majority of High Level Health's lineup, but I've always found that daytime citrus strains are the dispensary's speciality, with Mimosa, Passion Orange Guava and Sour Grapes all creating memorable experiences.
1110 West Virginia Avenue
Laughing Grass isn't even a year old, and it's located in an industrial section of town that's light on foot traffic, so there's a good chance the store isn't yet top of mind. That should change soon, though, once people get a whiff of the stiff Chemdog and Cookies variants the dispensary is growing. Hype beasts and saviors of the old school alike will find something worth breaking up and rolling here; get Bazookies and Afghani to smoke the best of both ages.