Like most people, I fondly remember losing my virginity -- not that things went perfectly the first time out. The experience was stumbly, fumbly and over in less time than it took to write this sentence. But still, somehow in my mind, it was one of the greatest life moments ever. Even now that our paths have diverged, with me married and the young woman in question probably living in a trailer somewhere in west Texas, borderline obese and stripping for redneck oilfield workers, there's still a soft spot in my mem'ried mind for her, to paraphrase a great hero of mine, Willie Nelson.
I look back on my first review -- published exactly five years ago today -- of Denver's Walking Raven dispensary in much the same way: Even if the shop isn't exactly how it used to be and I've found plenty of better places to shop in five years, it still stands out.
The Walking Raven
2001 Sout Broadway Denver, CO 80210 720-420-4444 TheWalkingRaven.com
Hours: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Raw marijuana price range: $10-$12/gram $33-$40/eighth-ounce. Other types of medicine: Edibles (hash and concentrates for sale on recreational side). Online menu? No (recreational menu available, however). Handicap-accessible? Yes. Recreational sales? Yes.
For me, the fondness isn't really about the mid-grade bud the shop was offering in 2009. It is about what the shop represented at the time. Namely: the early days, when a new dispensary on "Broadsterdam" seemed to pop up daily. Walking Raven's awkward "hippie kid hangout"-vibe, as I called it back in 2009, was the norm for medical marijuana dispensaries back then; they were still trying to figure out how to transition from storefront pot shops to respectable businesses. An example was Walking Raven's tiny, strange location and the way rooms were sectioned off for security purposes, with no regard for the strange flow of things.
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There was plenty more, including the tiny, cloud-covered bud bar no larger than a fat man's coffin, the small buds on the counter, the random assortment of edibles, the completely unnecessary dispensary membership card, the $25 grams....
Come to think of it, a lot of that is still there at Walking Raven. Five years later, you can still find $25 grams, only now they are on the recreational side of the counter, where eighths go for as much as $70. The place still feels more like the dorm room I used to sell pot out of than a medical shop, and there's hardly any room to move around inside. The staffers have kept their casual approach, and that's great if you want some bud and that's all. But it's probably not what you're looking for if you're a patient interested in a wide variety and a more clinical feel.
One major change that stands out five years later has been the shop's focus on recreational customers versus medical customers, though I guess it's indicative of the industry as a whole since then. You can still buy buds at patient prices, but from what I saw, patients are left with the seconds and are quickly becoming an afterthought. There were five strains of mostly larfy bottom buds tucked into a corner in the wood-and-glass display case. The other three-quarters of the bud on display was for rec customers. When I called a few weeks ago looking for inexpensive ounces to make some bubble hash, I was also told that the shop sets a half-ounce limit on medical stuff.
Continue for the rest of the review and photos. The recreational selection not only trumps the medical side, but the buds were much more plump and appealing. Recreational customers also had a wide selection of bubble hash, shatter, wax and edibles. Patients were left with the bud and a few candies. No concentrates had been marked for medical sales, though there was probably two ounces' worth of single-gram wax jars selling for $70 to the line of recreational customers coming and going next to me.
The staffers were still as friendly and welcoming as ever, and they knew their buds back and forth. My budtender rattled off strain lineage and latest testing info on everything I looked at, and despite the slight line forming behind, the budtender helping on the rec side took his time with everyone.
With little to choose from, I made my way through all of the strains on deck. The Lemon Skunk was okay; the lemon tartness of the tiny larfy buds did stick in my nose for a good minute, but it was overpriced at $40 an eighth (especially considering the shop across the street sold actual buds of quality herb at $35/eighth as recently as January). The Afghan Bubblegum had some pretty buds, but the smell had a hay-like, red-wine, musty thing going that didn't match up. The Sweet Cough was another that just didn't have the strong smells to back the buds. There are two price tiers at Walking Raven, but none of the buds seemed to be on the lower, $33/eighth level.
The Hong Kong Diesel is one of Walking Raven's signature strains -- and for good reason. When I first tried it in 2011, I was blown away by the full flavor and relaxing, mellow buzz. The buds I brought home then were glistening with trichomes. What I brought home this time around, though, was scattered shake. It's all that was left in the jar. Meanwhile, rec customers had a jar filled with actual buds of the same strain. Still, I have to give the shop credit: The flavor was 100 percent there on the tiny little bud leavings I brought home, as was the potency. I've been going through another rough spell with my stomach in recent weeks, and the flowers gave a great mellow, belly-soothing buzz. A mood-lifting strain, the Hong Kong Diesel worked up a normal appetite for me while keeping my stress and anxiety down. It just would have been nice to bring home tops instead of larf, though -- especially when Walking Raven was charging $40, top-shelf prices. Priced at $25/eighth, bud like what I brought home starts to make sense.
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The buds themselves weren't all that pretty and were heavily chop-trimmed in places, but the Lemon Kush was a stinker. It had a heady mix of lemonade and spring pine sap out of the jar in the shop, and it stood the test of time in the small canister I brought home. The flavor was nearly identical, with a strong lemon taste up front and a menthol-like rush of PineSol floor cleaner behind it that lingered for an hour. I didn't get any of the Kush soil/fuel flavor out of either a dry pipe or a bubbler, but the buds burned down clean and left me with a heavy head buzz. It did little for increasing appetite, but it was a great way to relax and unwind after a long day and a walk with the dogs. I still think it's overpriced at $40 an eighth, probably by about $5 to $10, but it was well done regardless.
With no hash selection to even look at (unless I wanted to get dragged over the coals in pricing at $45 to $75), I opted for just the two samples of herb and left $40 lighter. In all, the whole thing was underwhelming and fell short of my memories of the place from 2009 (and 2011). As a patient, there isn't much to offer me anymore. But unlike the girl who took my virginity, Walking Raven can still turn things around, and I can always head back if things get better.
But for now, I'll stick with my nostalgically happy memories.
Westword's medical marijuana dispensary critic, William Breathes, celebrates five years as the first newspaper pot critic in America today . Check out all of his reviews from 2009 to now at our Mile Highs and Lows blog.