Medical marijuana dispensary review: Higher Health Medical is on a higher plane

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In "Mile Highs and Lows," Westword offers a no-holds-barred look at what goes on behind the locked doors of marijuana dispensaries, whether they resemble swanky bars or a dope dealer's college dorm room. See our updated dispensary list here, and keep reading for William Breathes's review of Higher Health Medical:

Higher Health Medical

527 E. Mississippi Avenue 303-722-1156

Hours of operation: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 7 p.m. weekends. Owners: Jason, Joe and Omar Owners' statement: "Higher Health strives to provide all patients with the opportunity to receive the best cannabis at affordable rates." Opened: January 2010 Raw marijuana price range: $35-$50/eighth, tax included. Other types of medicine: Edibles, sodas, tinctures, lotions Patient services and amenities: Hospice care, wellness referrals Handicap-accessible? No wheelchair access

Our take: Higher Health Medical would be easy to miss if you didn't know where you were going. Only a sandwich board out front and a neon "Open" sign tell you there's something going on inside the one-story stucco building set back on an odd corner of Mississippi. Although it looks small from the outside, inside there's a cavernous waiting room painted forest green. A small leather couch and two chairs near the center of one wall face a flat-screen television; along the rest of the walls is a chronological timeline of ganja facts and photographs throughout history. Couple that with The Simpsons playing on the tube and the smell of fresh herb in the air, and the place has the feel of a strange stoner exhibit in a museum.

The receptionist area is at the back of the waiting room. The receptionist copied my paperwork while she chatted with me about my day, the heat outside and the shop's recent harvest. Lately, I've found several dispensaries that don't require patients to fill out carpal tunnel-inducing paperwork; I like this growing trend. The door to the bud room is by the receptionist. The budtender led me back, past a muscular dude wearing a black shirt with a Higher Health Medical logo who was sitting on a stool. I assumed he was a paid security guard. If not, he did a good job of seeming like one.

Compared to the waiting room, the bud room, also painted forest green, was tiny -- and in need of dusting. Normally, I don't notice such things (as my fiancée will tell you), but the mat in front of the counter was covered in bud shake, and several of the empty shelves had a veneer of dust. A tall display refrigerator buzzed in the corner, filled with ganja-infused sodas, brownies, candies and tinctures.

The budtender asked what strains I usually prefer and gave me a breakdown of the inventory, going over the $35 bottom-shelf herb first before describing the $50 top-shelf strains. "Bottom-shelf" doesn't seem to translate to bottom quality: Most of the herb here could easily pass for $50 strains elsewhere, including some quality bubblegum -- a strain that I normally avoid because it's hardly ever done well. Still, the $50 strains were very appealing and were what I ended up walking out with.

One of the clinic's founders and master growers, Omar (who did not give a last name), said the shop managers have more than 36 years' combined growing experience. Higher Health produces almost all of the strains it carries, using different grow mediums depending on the strain. Because they've relied on their own gardens to fill their shelves since the beginning, he added, they have always been able to offer $35 eighths for patients.

But keeping prices down is just one of the shop's goals. According to Omar, the owners wanted a place dedicated to a larger mission: creating a medical marijuana community. The time he spent in the Bay Area working with terminally ill AIDS patients humbled him, he told me, and much of Higher Health Medical's current focus is on patients in hospice care. The employees all volunteer ten hours each month, often helping terminally ill patients or at local community centers."We want to be doing more than just providing the medical marijuana," he stressed.

Page down for the medicine reviews.

White Rhino The dense, dark-green nuggets were coated in tiny trichomes, giving the tight folds of the bud a snowed-on appearance. The density of the calyxes freaked me out at first, but breaking open the nug showed how well it had been grown. There was an amazingly strong orange smell to it, like a Fanta soda, that filled my office. In the pipe, it had a fruity, Trainwreck-like taste but without the thick, heavy smoke that strain can have. I got a very strong, weighty feeling from this bud -- not good for getting work done (this paragraph took me an hour to write), but great for pain and muscle spasms. Alaskan Thunderfuck Long, fire-orange hairs snaked out from every corner of this emerald-green bud with a dusting of sand-colored crystals across it. They were surprisingly solid buds, despite how wispy they appeared: well-dried and cured, with a light fruit smell. More indica than sativa, this strain had a sweet, hash-like taste and burned to a fine white ash that left me with a heavy head buzz and a strong appetite. I subsequently tore through the Westword Dish event with reckless abandon -- going from waffles to pizza to Ethiopian food and still having room for more. Mama's Edibles Bar Moms make the best cookies and brownies. So by default, the fudge/granola/almond/coconut bar baked by the owner's mother had to taste delicious. What I didn't really expect was the strong buzz I got. The earthy ganja taste was well-masked by the gooey chocolate and the sharp taste of the almonds. The cinnamon-spiced coconut crème holding together the granola and nut mixture on the bottom was the literal icing on the cake that ultimately did me in. Instead of pacing myself, I ate the entire bar at once and spent the rest of the day floating around the house without a pain (or care) in the world. Next time, a half would be fine.

William Breathes is the pot pen name of our medical marijuana dispensary reviewer. You can read his bio here.

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