The Hemp Center is part shop, part dispensary -- and all marijuana

In "Mile Highs and Lows," we offer a no-holds-barred look at what goes on behind the locked doors of marijuana dispensaries, whether they resemble swanky bars, sterile dentists offices or a dope dealer's college dorm room.

This week, William Breathes reviews The Hemp Center:

The Hemp Center (THC) 2430 West Main Street, Littleton 303-993-7824 Hours of operation: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Owner: Melissa Van Diest Owner's statement: "Our mission at the Hemp Center is to provide information and products to help the citizens of Colorado become aware of hemp's versatility, sustainability and positive uses." Opened: November 2009 Raw marijuana price range: $50, $60 and $62, plus tax, for eighths. Other types of medicine: Edibles, hash, kief and oils. Handicap accessible? Yes. Our take: The sign out front of the Hemp Center said "medical dispensary," but when I walked inside, I had to ask to make sure I wasn't in some sort of skin-care and lifestyle boutique. The woman behind the front counter laughed as though it was a question she gets often, and asked for my red card and ID. As it turns out, though, I wasn't that far off.

The Hemp Center has turned its waiting room into a hemp-centric retail shop that would make Woody Harrelson proud, with hemp pants, hemp belts, hemp wallets, hemp hats, hemp lotions, hemp soaps and even hemp suntan lotion. Owner Melissa Van Diest has done a good job of transforming the circa 1900 storefront into a spacious, well-lit space with exposed brick, plenty of room to move around, and clean, bright decor. The Hemp Center is also the first dispensary to become a member of the South Metro Denver Area Chamber of Commerce.

THC has two bud rooms, but only one was open the morning I visited -- which probably isn't that big of an issue most mornings, but I felt rushed with six people waiting behind me. Still, the bud-tender took the time to walk me through everything since this was my first visit. The glass counter was full of herb jars, edibles and lotions -- more evidence of THC's push to provide all things hemp for its patients. The top shelf had different candies and oils, as well as a special "fairy dust" -- a mixture of hash-oil extract and kief rolled into a chunky goo that the 'tender said was both edible and smokeable. On the opposite wall, between the cabinets holding various pipes, bongs and vaporizers, were pictures of different strains.

There were fifteen different strains of herb on hand when I stopped in, pretty much evenly broken up between sativa- and indica-dominant strains. The shop has three levels of pricing for its herb: One star signifies $17 gram/$50 eighths; two stars are for the $20 gram/$60 eighths; and three stars are for the $25 gram/$62 an eighth. I like the tiered pricing system, but THC only had two-star available, and it wasn't all two-star quality. I also have a hard time paying $60 for an eighth anymore -- even for the finest, basement-grown sticky-icky.

Signing THC up as your caregiver gets you lots of benefits, however, including five-gram "eighths," 15 percent discounts storewide and a free eighth twice a year. Non-members get free joints or edibles on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as 10 percent off on Tuesdays and Thursdays and five grams for the price of an eighth on Sundays. Van Diest says she hopes to bring prices down across the board as her greenhouse grows ramp up to keep pace with the new laws.

I peeked at the indicas, but had been battling a vicious and vile sour stomach for the past few days and was looking for some sativa to help curb the abdominal assault and bring on a gluttonous hunger. I had the bud-tender pull out several strains, including the bubblegum, which had a green, fresh smell instead of the cured cane-sugar sweetness I was expecting. I ended up going with the 'tender's suggestion: a gram of Hawaiian Snow Cap and a gram of Juliet.

The Snow Cap was disappointing. Instead of the decent-looking, orange-haired thick nuggets I'd poked around at the shop, I was sent home with a gram of frustratingly spongy-wet herb with no discernable smell. In the pipe, the nug popped and crackled and grated on my throat, causing me to cough halfway through the hit. Herb in this condition shouldn't be sold, let alone sold for $60 an eighth. I was left with a dull, foggy high and a slight craving for Cracker Jack. (When I later mentioned the quality to Van Diest, she said she'd been leaving the top off the jar to dry out the herb in the store -- but it should be dried and cured before it ever gets to the shelves.)

The Juliet was a better buy; the cross of Sour Diesel and Cinderella 99 had an almost strawberry-sweet fruit aroma and a hearty, dark-green hue. It could have been better trimmed, as fan leaves covered up a lot of the orange hairs, but it still burned nicely and left an agreeable scent lingering around my back yard after I finished the bowl. I'd expected a more Sour D taste, but was pleased to get the sweet taste of Cinderella instead. Medically, this sativa-heavy strain was great for morning nausea and hunger without sending my head to the moon. Still, it didn't give me the hoagie-inhaling hunger I was looking for.

The Wildflower Seed and William Breathes are the pot pen names of our two alternating medical marijuana dispensary reviewers. Read their bios here.