Marijuana reviewer William Breathes: Yes, I do inhale

If you'd told me six months ago that I'd have a job with Westword that basically required me to smoke pot and then give readers my take on toking, I would have asked you for a hit of whatever it was you were puffing on.

And you would have passed it to me, and it would have been some pretty strong shit -- because here I am, several months into my gig as the first medical marijuana critic in the nation (alongside my cohort in cannabis criticism, the Wildflower Seed), writing the weekly Mile Highs and Lows.

The first thing friends ask when they discover my alter ego (aside from whether I have any good pot on me), is this: "What's it like?"

Here's what it's like. I try to go to dispensaries in the afternoon before the after-work rush so I can hang out a bit. Lately I've been going to shops that were suggested to me by other patients -- either in passing at other dispensaries, through comments on the blog, or from friends with their medical marijuana patient cards. I like to get a feel for the place and talk with the bud-tenders about what they recommend when they hear about my particular preferences and problems. Although I've been smoking pot recreationally and medicinally for nearly fifteen years, I've been a medical patient for the past year because of ongoing nausea and stomach pain that has hospitalized me countless times. Pot not only helps curb the nausea, but it also eases the anxiety that comes with more severe episodes.

I knew what I was looking for in terms of bud quality when I started this, as I've been spoiled with amazing organic, soil-grown herb for some time. But I'm not a snob. I've seen some incredible hydroponic herb, and I'm always open to anything grown well. Some of my favorite strains are OG Kush, Super Silver Haze, properly grown Trainwreck, Jack Flash, Island Sweet Skunk, old-school Fort Collins Cough and (as overplayed as it is) Sour Diesel. I try to buy grams of different herb from each shop for variety; in fact, I'm quickly running out of places to put all the little medicine jars they keep giving me.

I usually taste-test in a clean spoon pipe first, but then pack up my blue dot bong or a Silver Surfer vaporizer to get medicated. Most of the time I try the herb a few days after I've bought it, so that I can be sure to have a clear head to get a good feel for how it affects me.

I've found that like different strains of herb, people are going to have different tastes in their dispensaries. I've been in shops that are all about patient privacy and others that feel more like bud bars -- and both methods can work. What doesn't work is when the staff makes hardly any effort to figure out your preferences or needs. While I've met some really cool people, I've come across people sketchier than those I encountered when the greens I was smoking weren't purchased legally. I've also seen people who have no business being in this business. Like, for instance, the middle-aged woman talking up the desk clerk at Apothecary of Colorado about opening a dispensary of her own, even though she said she had tried pot only once in the '70s and didn't really like it. Like her, there are plenty of people getting into medical marijuana for unhealthy reasons.

Pricing is another huge issue. I don't understand people asking $70 for an eighth of "special reserve" simply because they pulled down a few good plants. To me, a good eighth of pot should never cost more than $55 in a shop, with tax included -- no matter what your overhead is or what your vendor is charging you.

Thankfully, I feel that I've been directed to more good shops than bad, and I'm constantly in awe of the quality of meds being grown locally. I'm also really enjoying seeing the many different kinds of folks in the med-pot scene -- everyone from baby-boomer professionals to young pot-savvy entrepreneurs looking to come out of hiding and run a business they always knew was legitimately helping people.

And most of all, I've enjoyed the ganja, both medically and recreationally -- though the lines between the two blur as I talk to countless shop employees about new ways of medicating. From using tinctures before bedtime and teas during the day for nausea to smoking a spliff and dancing around the living room to some Bob Marley to de-stress after midterm week, I've learned there are many more uses for medical ganja than just calming my stomach.

Medical marijuana is something I take seriously, but that doesn't mean I can't have fun with it. I don't think I'll ever get past the kid-in-a-candy-store feeling when I see twenty different strains in front of me.

And I know I'll never get used to collecting a paycheck for taking bong hits.

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William Breathes
Contact: William Breathes