Medical marijuana dispensary review: Berkeley MMC in Mountain View (North Denver)

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I had some pretty cool neighbors growing up. They lived in this adobe-style house filled with Native American artwork, unironic airbrushed wolf posters and turquoise -- lots of turquoise. This stood out in the cookie-cutter suburbia surroundings. But my folks liked them because they were genuinely nice people and would look out for my sister and me now and then -- and we'd watch their dog when they went out of town.

Looking back, I'm pretty sure they were tokers.

Berkeley MMC 4103 Sheridan Blvd. Mountain View, CO 80012 720-389-8081 www.berkeleymmc.com

Hours: 11 a.m to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. Closed Sundays. Owner/managers: Stan Johnson, Tim Mullen. Raw marijuana prices for non-members: $10 a gram with tax. Discounts with bulk purchases and all "eighths" weighed to 4 grams. Raw marijuana prices for members: $9 a gram with tax. Discounts with bulk purchases and all "eighths" weighed to 4 grams. Online menu: Yes, but not updated. Other types of medicine: Vendor edibles. Handicap accessible? No.

I thought about that whole Southwestern spiritual vibe of my long-distant neighbors the other week, when it all came rushing back during my visit to Berkeley MMC in North Denver. The shop is clearly run by similar people, which further reinforces my belief that my neighbors puffed tough.

Like my old neighbors' place, the adobe-plastered walls of Berkeley MMC's two-story former house stand out in the otherwise single-story working-class neighborhood. The shop is just down the way from Lakeside Amusement Park, which, incidentally, is a pretty fun place to go after a good toke session (recreationally, of course). Parking was easy enough to find on the side of the shop.

Inside, the walls of the home's former living room are painted a royal purple, blue, green and turquoise, which would give it a funhouse feel if the look wasn't pulled together with Native American rugs, paintings and photographs hung on nearly every inch of space. The place had the feel of a Southwestern art gallery in Santa Fe, minus the pretentious art snobs and New Yorkers dressed in Navajo prints. Owner Stan Johnson says the accents come from a family member who deals in Indian art.

The receptionist is located in what was probably the old dining room. The day I was in, owner and grower Stan was behind the counter and greeted me with a friendly hello and a handshake. No paperwork to fill out, so I didn't get a chance to sink into the blue-velvet chairs in the lounge. Stan just copied my red card and ID and sent me back to my waiting budtender just beyond a set of French doors in the bud room.

The budtender was a gal about my mom's age with a smoky voice and the slight accent of someone from one of the Dakotas. She joked around with me about my being too young to remember the good old days, and we spent about five minutes talking about everything from the changing of the aspen leaves to life in a small town. I enjoy a good budtender chat now and then, much like a happy-hour hero enjoys a conversation with an affable bartender.

We eventually got down to the herb, which was kept in large jars below the glass counter of the bud bar. The shop had smaller sample jars for patients to browse through on top of the counter, and the budtender went through the strains with me one by one. The opening and closing of the sample jars over the week had depleted any of the smell reserves left in them, but otherwise the buds looked to be good representations of the overall stock.

On the lower end was an early-cut Sugar Bowl with a strange mossy smell and a blended jar of Hapa Haze, SSR and some other mystery buds. Nothing would take home any awards at a cannabis contest, but Berkeley did have some decent White Rhino with short, stubby buds and a subtle hashy smell, healthy-looking chunks of Headband and a frosted example of Strawberry Cough. After the visit, Stan and co-owner Tim Mullen told me everything is done in-house using a modified coco fiber/hdyroponic setup; they keep a small strain stock going and tend to shelve only a few strains at a time. "We're really a boutique shop," Tim said. "We aren't going to be able to keep up with the 1,000-plant grows that way."

As I was saying before, the owners are all older tokers who have been around since back in the day, when a dime bag cost a dime. Not to say they don't know their herb, by any means. But my budtender advised me to wipe out the bowl of my pipe before taking a hit of the Strawberry Cough just to be sure I got the taste. It was a sweet gesture, and the way she said it sounded like she had recently learned the joy of fruity strains and a clean glass bowl. Maybe years of toking doobies and having wood pipes will do that to you? Still, while I clean out my pipes almost daily at this stage in my life, I made it a point to find a clear glass piece the first time I tried it out, just to respect the instructions that came with my medicine.

Aside from the bud, the shop also had a unique collection of vintage mechanized wooden cigarette dispensers from the 1930s and 1940s on display. Instead of simply showing off the kitschy oddities, the staff put them to use, packing them up with house joints to hand out to patients. I'm now on the lookout for such a contraption for my office.

The budtender offered to break up my four-gram bag any way I wanted, so I picked three strains and had her bag them up. First visit gets member prices of right around $40 with tax. A second visit will cost about $5 more on a bag if you don't sign them up. Also, the owners recently stopped taking credit cards because they can't find a company to process them -- a growing problem among dispensaries in general. There is an ATM on site, but pull cash out from your bank ahead of time to spare yourself the service fees.

Overall, the quality won't bring my pot-snobby ass back any time soon, but there were some decent meds, and I can see how the friendly vibe and overall quality would be an attraction for an older crowd...maybe even my old neighbors.

Page down for pictures and reviews of the strains William Breathes took home. Headband: $8.90/gram The sample jar on the shelf wasn't full of the impressive buds, and because they'd been left open, they had lost most of their smell. I took it home anyhow at the suggestion of my budtender, and I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised at what I ended up with. I got some light-green nugget chunks with a slight dusting of trichomes near the folds of the calyxes and sugar leaves that looked like small piles of blonde hash under the scope. The bud had purple hints throughout as well, and it seemed to be timed pretty well, though a few more days in flower wouldn't have hurt, either. The smaller chunks in my bag had a mellow taste to the first few hits, but the bigger chunk had a more pronounced, sweet-kushy tartness with lemony-citrus undertones. The taste didn't last beyond the first two green hits of a bowl or the first big draw off a spliff, but it was there. The rest produced a pleasant smell in the air and left me with a mind-wandering, ADD-inducing buzz. Sampling the buds mid-afternoon on Saturday sent me on a home-repair spree that left me with half-finished projects that I was still completing as recently as last night. Strawberry Cough: $8.90/gram Like the Headband, this cut surprised me when I brought it home. What I figured was relatively mediocre herb turned out to be much better than I had anticipated. In the shop, I was attracted to the orange flower and dusting of trichomes, though it didn't have much of a smell. At home, the buds I broke up had a scratch-and-sniff strawberry smell that even my olfactory-challenged wife could pick out. More crystal heads than amber ones under magnification and clean from what I could see. Burned it in a clean spoon and a clean bubbler and neither time did I get even the most mild haziness out of the taste. Harsh on the intake with a slight fruitiness on the first hit, but nothing worth writing home about (though clearly worth writing a blog about). Testing the herb in the two pipes and, later, a joint left me with a cough syrup-like floating head, but also gave me a much-needed appetite boost over the last few days while I try to pack on some winter pounds. I'm not sure when the last time I had a great sample of Strawberry Cough was, though to be fair, this is about as good as I've seen at a dispensary. "Mystery Weed:" $8.90/gram I felt like gambling, so I had the budtender pack up a gram of the mystery weed in the jar that could either have been Chemdawn (it wasn't), Hapa Haze (I hope it wasn't) or some cut called SSR that the budtender wasn't sure of. I should have paid more attention to the signs I was being given, including the budtender telling me that it was herb that the grower had somewhat left to its own devices after partially seeding. It had the smell of wet pencil shavings with an acrid, ammonia-like tickle to the nose. Broken up, the bud I took home had an extremely feint skunkiness to it, but even then it was overpowered by a moldy-smelling gnarliness. I saw a few questionable spots of chunkiness under the scope, but nothing identifiable. Still, it wasn't the most pleasant smoke despite being extremely stoney to the head and body. My guess on the mystery? I have no clue. It's hard when things are this wonky. Compared to the other two strains, this weed shouldn't have been the same price and possibly not on the shelves at all. (Side note: I try to not put down this plant by associating it with lowly weeds, but now and then, the term fits what you get.)

William Breathes is the pot pen name for our wandering Medical Marijuana Center critic. For more of his reviews, head over to our Mile Highs and Lows blog. While you're at it, keep up with all your Denver news in our news blog, The Latest Word.

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