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Medical marijuana dispensary review: High Grade Alternatives in Boulder

This dispensary has closed.

High Grade Alternatives has been around since October 2009, and I've heard nothing but good things about the place. Owner Adam Mahon said HGA developed a strong following from the start by buying small-batch herb from caregivers. Laws have changed, but Mahon says the shop's been able to keep up the high-grade production and huge selection it's known for.

High Grade Alternatives

Location: 3370 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder Phone: 303-449-1905 Website: www.highgradealternatives.com Hours of operation: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday. Owner/manager: Adam Mahon Opened: October 2009 Raw marijuana price range: $35-$50/eighth for non-members. Members receive 20 percent discount. Other types of medicine: Hash oil, hash, kief, edibles, candies Handicap accessible? Yes

The shop is in a strip center off Arapahoe and 28th, between a bakery and a bike shop. Parking wasn't a hassle, and the entire center is handicap-accessible. Bob Marley's "Keep on Movin'" was playing overhead when I walked in, and a big, bearded mountain man-looking guy in his thirties in line in front of me was shuffling his feet to the rhythm and singing along quietly when not talking with the receptionist as she copied his paperwork. Judging by the conversation, he was a regular, and I didn't mind giving them a minute to finish their chat before she buzzed him back to the bud bar.

As a first-timer, I had about four pages of paperwork to fill out. I took a seat on one of the plush couches along the west side of the space. The waiting room has a simple, clean feel with a few pieces of artwork hung on the earth-toned wall, including vivid nature prints from local artists Phil Lewis and Bryce Widom. Lewis, who also displays work at the Farm in Boulder, is best known for his psychedelic, Day-Glo nature paintings. Denver folks may also recognize his colorful chalk paintings that change seasonally behind the bar at Vine Street Pub. High Grade definitely has a college-town feel, but despite its mellow vibe, it's classed up with wood floors, nice furniture and an overall clean appearance.

I handed over my paperwork and sat for a minute while the receptionist put me in the system before sending me back to my budtender, Mark. The bud bar features three matching glass display cases, each with herb kept in square glass jars on top -- indica at the front and sativa at the back. Along the back wall was a second mural by Widom, this one of a fox romping through a field overlooking a mountain scene done in vivid orange, red and green chalk. Too bad it's a temporary piece -- although judging by his work at Vine Street, the next painting will be equally intriguing.

Also in the cases were a few different concentrates, pipes and portable vaporizers -- but for the most part, the product was kept out for patients to browse through. "What's good?" I asked, staring at the full countertop. "Marijuana," he replied. Nice answer.

I've had a bad back for two weeks now. And while I wish I could say it was from something rad like rock climbing barefoot to escape a bear, it's really from mowing my lawn with an ancient push mower. Getting old sucks. The only good side to the stabbing pain near my spine that runs down my leg with a searing burn is that it's given me a reason to go for the stronger indicas instead of the sativa and sativa-dominant strains I normally use to fight off nausea. I'm sure someone at the state level would frown on this, but if you haven't already done so, I suggest experimenting with various cannabis strains for a wide range of ailments aside from just what your doctor recommends.

Mark quickly gave me the "nickel tour" of the place, rattling off products and price breakdowns like a ganja auctioneer. HGA had an entire wall devoted to edibles, several different pipes and vaporizers and loads of strain-specific ice water and butane hash. The majority of the forty or so strains in the shop were considered "top shelf." While I questioned why some of the herb was labeled like it was (Headband as an indica, for example), the quality in the dozen or so jars I popped open seemed to justify being designated cream of the crop. There were very solid, strain-distinct smells from strains like Planewreck and Bubblegum. The shop also had a range of purple strains that Mark was pushing, including a concord-grape sweet grape skunk called Grunk. Some of the bottom shelf, $35-an-eighth cuts looked okay, including Jah Kush with its wild, untamed buds. Others weren't as worthwhile, such as AK and Kacey Jones cuts that I passed over on looks alone.

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Prices include tax, with $35 an eighth on the low end and $50 on the high end. Signing up the shop as your caregiver (or whatever the hell that's called now) gets you 20 percent off purchases -- dropping a top-shelf eighth price to a reasonable $40 with tax included. What was considered normal pricing a year ago seems high now, and $50 sounds pricey when talking about an eighth of herb. On the phone later, the owner admitted it was a high price, but he said most customers have signed HGA up as their caregiver. He said the center would drop non-member pricing eventually as the market in Boulder demands it. But HGA doesn't appear to be in any big rush to change.

Mark split an eighth three ways for me, and I snagged a quarter-gram of oil on top. First-time patients get the member discount, so I walked out paying around $57 for a few days' worth of medicine.

Page down for cannabis pictures and reviews. Headband: $50/eighth for non-members Indica? Okay, I'll run with that. Why not? Most say this is a sativa-dom, although I have found it packs a pretty heavy punch. On the stick, it looked stretchy, with bobbed foxtail calyxes topped with reddish-pink hairs. Grown well, despite a few banana seeds on one of my buds. Very solid, Diesel-like punch up front with a well-developed citrus funk underneath. The ingredient list was written on the sticker on the bag, so buyers know what was used to grow the ganja (and hopefully what's been flushed out). The buds I took home represented what HGA had in the jar: near perfectly dried, cured and trimmed nuggets with toothpick-sized stems. It had a mall-batch appearance overall, with a taste you'd hope to get: tangy and tart, with a sweet aftertaste. Not really what I would call an indica buzz, but it was soothing -- more so mentally than physically. If anything, it offered a mellow and borderline psychedelic buzz that was great for puffing and enjoying the lightning shows every night over the last week. Vanilla Kush: $50/eighth for non-members Nice, hand-trimmed look to these buds, with loads of forest-green sugar leaves left behind. Underneath the chunky, sand-colored trichome coating on the outer calyxes were purple veins of nugget. The sample had a smooth, vanilla ice-cream aroma in the jar, and broken up, it gave off a black-licorice stink that curled my nose (I'm not a licorice fan). No ingredient list on this baggie, but like the Headband, it scoped clean and didn't have any blandness or leftover fertilizer stink to it. Well dried and cured -- just a bit of the leafy "Colorado trim," as my California friends call it. (These are also people who don't mind trim machines, so take it with a grain of salt.) Not as full a taste as the Headband, nor did it burn as fresh. Mild earthiness for a Kush that was gone by the second hit in a dry pipe and bubbler. Very stoney, though, and exactly what I needed for back relief at night to get to bed. After sessioning on this, it was easy to lay back and fall asleep on my back for several hours. Better, I didn't have to resort to taking a pain pill that would have left me truly zonked out the next morning. Skywalker OG: $50/eighth for non-members Chunky, OG appearance, with rust-colored hairs and an amber slathering of crystals tucked into the crevices of the bud and sugar leaves left behind at trimming. Under the scope, there were what looked like huge, fat globs of hash dribbled on the plant. Very solid OG funk in the big jar in the shop that stuck with the nugget in the plastic baggie for a few days until I busted it out to try. It burned with a sugary finish through most of the bowl, down to a clean white ash. Very stoney, heavy buzz on this strain that slowly crept from my head down through my body over an hour or so. Very mellowing without making me sleepy, this was the pick of the bunch for getting rid of back pain. OG Kush blended wax: $18/quarter-gram I know I've been on a BHO kick for some time now and that I should do more ice water hash reviews in here. But this OG had such a strain-specific smell, with no trace of solvent leftover, that I had to bring it home despite the price of $18 for a quarter-gram. It was dried well and easy to roll into little balls on my fingertips -- and it left them smelling like I just molested an OG plant. Now and then, I burned it on top of a bowl for added kick -- but it was best on a hot pad or glass nail. Very smooth-hitting wax, even doing a Tic Tac-sized dab. As usual, adding such a condensed amount of THC and other cannibinoids is going to ring anyone's bell -- but the hash blend was a good weeknight choice for the slicing nerve pain running down my hip to my knee. It was also a good weekend choice for catching up on Dexter episodes with a bag of pretzels and a ham sandwich.

William Breathes is the pot pen name for Westword's medical marijuana dispensary critic. Read more reviews on our medical marijuana blog, Mile Highs and Lows.

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