Medical marijuana dispensary review: Alternative Wellness Center gives Highland alternatives

This dispensary has closed.

I can remember back in the day when having the option of a bag with or without seeds was about as much selection as I'd get when buying pot. Now I can walk into a shop that carries two-dozen strains of herb and walk out having only seen half of the menu. Spoiled much? Yes, and I don't think I'd have it any other way. But it's nice to have shops that also focus on keeping only a dozen or so strains on the shelves at any given time.

Alternative Wellness Center

Location: 2647 West 38th Avenue Phone: 720-855-6565 Website: Hours of operation: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays Owner/manager: Ed Kieta Mission statement: "We are very passionate about cannabis. It is the most safe and effective medicine out there, as well as a safe recreational substance." Opened: December 2009. Raw marijuana price range: $40/eighths for members, $50/eighths for members. Other types of medicine: hash, edibles Handicap-accessible: ADA compliant

The red paint on the outside is hard to miss from the street, and it sets this clinic apart from the three other dispensaries within a stone's throw of each other. Owner Ed Kieta says that when he opened Alternative Wellness Center, his biggest concern wasn't the competition but that residents in the surrounding Sunnyside neighborhood would object to having so many pot shops on the block. There haven't been any problems, though, and Kieta hasn't seen anything worse than a random hug breaking out in front of the dispensary.

The front waiting room has a clean, modern, industrial feel, with stained concrete flooring, steel coffee tables and a massive iron tree sculpture hanging on the exposed cinderblock walls; the feel continues into the back. The space here isn't huge, but Kieta has done a good job of setting things up so that everything flows and doesn't feel cramped. A second patient lounge is set up on one side, and a long metal-and-wood display bar takes up the other half. Black-and-white photos of old Denver hang framed on the light khaki-green walls.

After I filled out three pages of standard paperwork, I was buzzed back to the dispensary -- where I was met by a small dog who dropped a chewed-up ball at my feet and urged me to kick it, which I did. Kieta says the surprisingly quick West Highland terrier, Lily, is also a trained therapy dog that does rounds at local hospices. Glancing up from petting Lilly, I must have had a confused look on my face as I looked at the selection of jars at the bud bar. ."We're kind of low on strains right now," the budtender said, pointing to the seven jars behind the glass sneeze guard covering part of the bar. "But what we do have is pretty good."

The nice thing about the small selection was that I could let the budtender break out all of the strains without feeling like an asshole. The first jar was full of big fat buds of the shop's slightly purple-hued Bubba OG, which the budtender said looked like it was covered in diamonds; the shop also had a grape-purple strain called Querkle, a mix of Purple Urkle and Space Queen. The budtender pulled out a jar of Banana Kush that looked good, though it was a bit leafy, as he pointed out. He also admitted that while the Durban Poison looked large and healthy, it wasn't as good as the last batch in the shop.

The hash from the Durban, though, was another story, and at $15 for a half-gram it made more sense to just go with the concentrate. My only issue was that the tops were off the jars to help dry the strains, leaving the smell on most of them dull. Kieta says that Alternative Wellness Center primarily carries its own plants from its 6,000 square-foot grow space. The shop is running about 80 percent of its crop in organic soil and the other 20 percent hydro.

The second half of the counter was devoted to edibles, including Cheeba Chews. These Tootsie Roll-like candies are filled with so much hash oil that the shop makes people sign a waiver before buying them. "They are so intensely strong," my budtender told me. "I've had people tell me they ended up on the floor in a fetal position." I decided against getting a Cheeba Chew.

Page down to find out what I did decide on. Bubba OG Probably the most eye-catching strain in the shop, though it could clearly use a better trim. It also was sadly missing the strong funk I've seen in some Bubba OGs, even after leaving it in a small jar at home for a week. Only after crunching up the nugget in my fingers did I get a faint cedar freshness and rubbery kush scent. It lit smooth and had a sweet, bubblegum-like flavor to it on the intake and a light, diesel funk for an aftertaste. Not the strongest-tasting or -smelling specimen I've seen, and it could have used some more attention while being cured, but it was potent and left me fogged out for a good hour. It was a good way to release stress and tension at the end of the day -- but then again, when isn't ganja a good way to do that? Boggle Gum Even Kieta agreed with me that this was probably the least impressive-looking strain in the case, mostly because of the small, misshaped buds. You wouldn't believe it by the pictures, though. Still, the lime-colored flowers were coated in a silver mist of trichomes and the budtender assured me the herb was worthwhile. Broken up, the cut had a spicy licorice funk, with a sour-apple taste to the doobie before I sparked it. It had a skunky but otherwise dull taste and burned harsh in a pipe and bubbler; like the OG, some more time given to the preparation of this cut could have helped the smell and flavor. It was a good mild strain for smoking a satisfying spliff after Thanksgiving turkey dinner that didn't make me more tired or too awkwardly sativa-high to hang out with the family playing Taboo. Durban Poison hash Durban Poison is a favorite for the uniquely earthy, barnyard smell and the accompanying spicy sativa flavor. It would remind me of walking around a north African bazaar -- had I actually ever been to Africa or a bazaar. The hash was pretty much the exact same thing, just concentrated into copper-colored chunks. The hash sizzled on top of a bowl, though it was hard to keep what was essentially loosely pressed kief together. This made it ideal for crumbling into a spliff, though, as opposed to rolling up a snake of more putty-like hash. Scooped out onto a hot paddle, the hash melted into a bubbling tar with a strong Lemonhead-like tartness. For $15 a half-gram, it was a good medium-strength hash that went well with on top of the Boggle Gum.

William Breathes is the pot pen name of our medical marijuana dispensary reviewer. Read the William Breathes bio here and be sure to check out our archive of Mile Highs and Lows medical marijuana dispensary reviews.

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