Medical marijuana dispensary review: Higher Ground in Denver

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This dispensary has closed.

The entrance is borderline speakeasy-esque: A gray door is tucked in the space between Washington Park Grille on one side and a breakfast eatery/ice-cream bar on the other. It looks more like kitchen access for either restaurant than a dispensary entrance. Only a few unassuming signs (and smells) give Higher Ground away.

Higher Ground

2215 East Mississippi Ave. Denver, CO 80210 303-733-5500 www.highergroundmmc.com

Hours of operations: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Other types of meds: Edibles, hash. Online Menu: Yes. Raw marijuana price range: $25/eighth and $150/ounce for members, $35/eighth and $190/ounce for nonmembers. Tax not included in pricing. Handicap-accessible? No.

I first attempted to check out Higher Ground a few weeks ago, when the shop had a whopping total of two herb strains on the shelves (or shelf, in this case). It was awful timing on the center's part. But instead of bringing me in and trying to sell me on the few remaining buds rattling around in their jars, the budtender told me the situation at check-in.

Since I wasn't shopping for edibles -- the only thing the shop had in good variety at the time -- I didn't get past the small, red-walled lounge area. The budtender apologized and urged me to try back the following week, when the harvest was due -- I decided to give the MMC a second shot because of how honest the guy was. Not many businesses will tell you when it's better to go shop at a competitor.

Second time around, I could sniff the difference a shop full of herb makes before making it halfway up the stairs to the dispensary. It was like in those old cartoons with Pepe Le Pew being led around by smells, only in reverse. A patient was in ahead of me, so I was asked to have a seat while the woman behind the sliding receptionist window took my card and ID to copy.

While the Wash Park Grille below is spendy, trendy and full of cougars on the prowl, Higher Ground is anything but. Well, I can't say for certain about the cougars; Higher Ground may have those, too. But the dispensary was empty the second time I stopped by except for the staff and me.

The bud bar is an extension of the same red-walled, black-trimmed, exposed brick décor out front in the waiting area. Four or five tall, southern-facing windows light up the otherwise the dark colors. Buds are displayed in large, labeled jars behind a black wood and clear glass display case on two shelves -- half of which were empty and collecting dust. Guess they gave up on having a larger inventory of unsellable paraphernalia.

My budtender was a tall, lanky guy probably in his late twenties and sporting a Bill Walton-circa-1977 'Blazers beard. Though I was a first-timer, there wasn't much of a need for a mini-tour of the shop, as everything was right in front of me in two cabinets -- edibles on one side and herb on the other. In fact, the edibles selection was pretty thin, with $20 sweets from Edi-Pure, $10 candy from Blu Kudu and $5 cookies and brownies from the kitchen of Sweet Grass.

Hash was limited to two blended varieties, and though it's called bubble hash, it had a very unique spongy look and feel to it. Small air pockets left behind made it seem almost like someone had whipped it dry and even then squished it like a sponge. At $10 a gram member pricing, it was certainly worth taking home to check out, though.

Without any patients behind me, I ended up making it through all but one or two of the strains on hand. And I didn't even annoy the budtender doing so. I mean, the guy works around weed all day long. It's not like he wouldn't have been checking out the jars anyway.

For the most part, everything I saw on the Higher Ground shelf was good cannabis. A few samples bordered on really good, like the tennis ball-sized buds of spicy Durban Poison, sparkling light green Master Kush and a batch of wonderfully stanky Cheezel. Other strains, like the Pre-98 Bubba, Sour D and Querkle, were worth considering as well, even if the Bubb and the Sour D were both down to the last quarter or so. Also interesting was a wild and scraggly Holland's Hope that looked outdoor-grown but smelled like a Creamsicle factory out of the jar.

An employee I spoke with after my visit told me everything is grown in an organic soil mix. He also mentioned that the shop shared a grow with the now-closed Herbal Wellness Center in the Highlands.

By the end, I had stacked three jars containing my top choices on the counter. Being a broke-ass writer, I opted for single grams of all three as well as a chunk of the fluffy blonde hash made from mixed Querkle and Sour Diesel trim. My budtender also threw in a penny joint (nothing is free, remember).

Pricing at Higher Ground is great. Members and first-time patients are capped at $25 for an eighth of an ounce, all the way up to a half ounce. Non-members are capped at $35 an eighth and $60 a quarter. Best of all: ounces were topped out at $150 for members and first-timers and at $190 for returning non-members. Though it might be worth a call ahead to make sure the shelves are stocked, Higher Ground should be on the radar for price-conscious patients looking for clean, quality buds.

Page down for strain reviews and photos. Master Kush I've been craving winter lately. It might have something to do with this being the hottest summer in over a decade here in Denver, but I am ready for some damn snow to fall. Even my ganja is starting to look like snow on the pines -- especially this frosty Master Kush. No nastiness on the scope, just crystals coating thin, delicate calyxes with silk-thin threads of orange hairs popping out. The flavor at first was black-pepper spicy with a skunky, raw cannabis aftertaste that reminded me of smoking joints in the woods as a teenager. (And we we're not talking about nothing schwaggy, but good ol' outdoor-grown farm weed from my neighbor's aunt.) In addition to making me horribly nostalgic, Higher Ground's Master Kush also was masterfully good at putting me down for the count. Not great for smoking and doing anything functional, but perfect for zoning out and ending your day without a care in the world. As someone once said on some CNBC medical marijuana special: You might still have pain, but you just don't care about it. GDP: Grand Daddy Purp This was the budtender's suggestion. I get where he was coming from with the grounding buzz and sweet flavor, but the bud I brought home didn't make up the most appealing gram ever. In fact, it looks really tumbled and tight-trimmed in the photo. Broken up and scoped, the buds were clean and, well, purple. Deep grape calyxes with amber trichomes were framed by green sugar leaves that I'm sure made a beautiful flower when it was growing. I puffed this indica-leaning lady to relieve end-of-the-day aches and stress and found relief for a good hour and a half before it tapered off easily. Nothing that was going to put me to sleep early, but still enough to make a difference with back and hip pain. Cheezle Cheese, meet Diesel. Two unique and outstandingly stinky strains paired up together makes just what you expect: double stinky Cheese with a bit of rubbery tart Diesel to back it up. Very Cheesy structure to the bud itself, but underneath the pine-cone shape were fat calyxes stacked on top of each other with glistening trichomes everywhere. Well-developed flavor to this strain as well, with a light Diesel aftertaste following a small spliff and a more robust skunkiness out of a dry pipe. Nothing overwhelming, but far form disappointing. As for the medicinal effects or buzz or whatever you want to call it, this strain was a peppy jolt smoked first thing in the morning to settle some slight cramping before breakfast and the appetite stimulation kept going well into my snacky morning. Well placed at the $25 level for patients and not bad for non-members at $30 either. Querkle x Sour Diesel bubble hash It was called bubble hash, but as I mentioned above, the consistency reminded me of astronaut ice cream and it burned along the lines of dry-sieve hash or pressed kief -- not that I'm complaining necessarily. Instead of melting down, the maple-colored sponge hash smoked almost like a bowl of herb down to a light gray ash. It wasn't the smoothest thing out of a dry pipe and was better smoked using a small bubbler or a vape with a fine screen (I busted out the SSV this week for tests). But whatever. I'm not writing about it here because it was super-duper, double-decker dome, full-melt-voodoo solvent quality, or whatever. I'm telling you about it because it was simply good hash for $10 a gram for members and $15 for non-members.

Read more dispensary reviews from William Breathes in our everything-ganja blog, Mile Highs and Lows, check out marijuana-related product reviews with Stoner MacGyver, and keep up with all your Colorado cannabis news at The Latest Word.

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