Medical marijuana dispensary review: iVita Wellness in Uptown

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With new management taking over less than two weeks ago, everyone at iVita Wellness seems to be about as new to the place as I am.

iVita Wellness 1660 Pearl St. in Denver

phone: 303-952-9150 website: www.ivitawellness.com Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. Owner/manager: Matt Bencivenga Opened: November 2010; new ownership took over July 2011. Raw marijuana prices: $25/eighth bottom shelf, $45/top shelf. Members receive 15 percent discount Other types of medicine: Edibles, waxes. Handicap accessible? Yes.

Owner Matt Benciventa says he and his partners took over the shop just a few weeks ago after the previous management let the shop slide in quality and customer care. He feels the location and atmosphere of the shop are perfect, though, and he'll soon be stocking the shelves with 100 percent organic, coco-grown herb.

Only thing is: All that was on the shelves when I stopped by was leftover product from the previous management and herb bought wholesale. Bad timing on my part, but I don't call ahead and make sure it's a good time for my visit, either.

The dispensary's building is a strange, one-story commercial job from the Sixties that's been brightened up from the outside with a coat of neutral tan paint and a spray-painted mural of a blue, elfish creature releasing a handful of butterflies. It's across the street from the Uptown Tavern, which coincidentally has a mini-bowling alley that is ridiculously fun to play when ripped on a good sativa, not to mention a well-ventilated patio. But I digress...

I walked in through the iron-clad, double-glass doors, which open into a long, narrow waiting room. The iVita website gives off more of an art-gallery vibe, but there was only a single painting hung on the wall during my visit. Seems like the old owners took the art with them. Otherwise, the room felt open and cool, with light wood floors and earthy green and gray paint. Beyond a doorway in back wall of the waiting room is an equally large space that the shop uses for massage therapy. To the left is the receptionist desk, where my budtender was waiting with a clipboard holding a page of standard lawyer-language. She copied my ID and paperwork while I filled things out and I was on my way back to the bud bar within a few minutes.

Compared to the front waiting area and massage space, the bud bar seems small and cozy. Asparagus-green paint on the walls with a few pictures of past harvests hung under one of the small, high windows. To the right when you walk in is a second, smaller patient lounge with two love seats facing each other and a small table with a few old magazines on top. Across the room is the bud station, featuring simple glass and birch wood cabinets.

The shop was low on stock the day I was in, but my budtender was making the best of it and cracking jokes about some of the product left behind by the former managers. She and another woman working that day were a lot of fun to hang with while shopping, making me feel more like a friend than a customer. She pointed out things on the shelves she liked and didn't like, and assured me that bigger and better things were to come with the new management.

After my mini tour of the space, my budtender got down to business. She asked me what my ailments were before reaching for a few jars of top shelf herb at $45 per-eighth, including Flo, Blue Dream and Golden Goat. The Blue Dream was slightly leafy and the Golden Goat was lacking the distinctly pungent, tarty sweetness, but overall, they looked to be grown, dried and cured well. The shop also had its more shake-filled jars of Tomato, God Bud and AK-47 priced down to $25 an eighth. None of them were outstanding in quality, but they were all easily as good as other $25 bags I've seen in shops recently.

One of the big changes already in place at iVita: The new owners have signed the guys from Top Shelf Extracts as their primary wax and oil makers. Only a few examples of their work was on view, including some beautiful blonde wax, as well as some more oily amber wax. Products made from iVita's herb should come in a few weeks, according to Benciventa.

After talking out my options with the ladies, I ended up going with their two suggestions: Blue Dream for my aching back and Flo to deal with a recent downturn in my stomach health that has me feeling pukey every morning. I also had a gram of Top Shelf Extract wax, but realized at checkout I was low on cash and didn't have the $25 to spring for a concentrate this week. I told the budtender that despite how enticing the wax was, I was broke. Without missing a beat, she told me she had a sample in the back that she could kick me down. I've never seen a budtender be that generous to a first-time customer for no reason, and I thanked her at least ten times in a minute before heading out.

The employees clearly want to make the shop a fun place to be, and despite the lack of in-house herb on the shelves, I left impressed. All that said, I'll have to do a follow-up review on these guys to see how their herb really measures up.

Page down for this week's strain reviews and photos. Flo: $45/eighth This is the purple cut of Flo. Not sure how else to put that, other than there's another cut of Flo that didn't go all Barney. Still, what I took home only had a slight mauve look to the calyxes. Very light, nice smell from the cut, which I've never thought was much of a stinker. It left a mild, earthy-soil finish on my fingers and smelled mildly hashy up front and when broken up. Unfortunately, I did find a few little insect stowaways in the herb. Nothing offensive, but there were clearly a few small gnats and at least two or three smaller spider mite-like creepy-crawlies in the sample I brought home. Benciventa told me that this herb was wholesale and not out of their garden, which is at least partially good news. I selectively picked off clean calyxes with tweezers (yes, I'm that big of a nerd) for my tester bowl, which burned with a more intense soil flavor than the smell would have led me to believe. It was easily one of the tastier cuts of Flo I've had in a while. Shame it was peppered with exoskeleton. Benciventa assured me that this is roughly the quality of their in-house grows (minus the bugs). Blue Dream: $45/eighth For some reason, I always look over Blue Dream as something to take home. But this cut was presented to me by my budtender as a sativa that has very pain-relieving, indica-like qualities. I saw this as a test I should accept. If she wins the challenge, I win by relieving my enduring back pain from the epic push lawnmower battle of 2011 (as it is now referred to at the Breathes household). The light green buds where wispy and coated in a light dusting of amber trichomes and minimal orange pistils that gave them a weightless, cloud-like appearance. The buds looked clean and free of bugs under the scope, and the hairy trichomes looked like orange Velcro. As expected, it had a sweet, candy-like smell broken up and a rich, herbal tea-like taste and haze to the smoke. As promised, the strain worked well to relax my nerves and rid me of the stabbing pain in my hip and lower back. But it also provided a very dynamic and thought-provoking mental buzz without getting me worked up or paranoid. Blended BHO: $25/gram on special ($40/gram regularly) As I said above, the shop had two in-house wax blends. This freebee half-gram I got wasn't anywhere near the quality of those two. I know, gift horses and mouths and all that stuff -- but I regret not going back for the flaky, dry yellow BHO iVita had. The wax I took home had the look and consistency of brown sugar. Despite the floral smell and taste, it also seemed still wet with solvent and burned harshly. I got a skyrocketing, quick high from the wax but wasn't that pleased with how well it was purged. A bath in hot water and blast with a torch seemed to even it out, but I'll be expecting a lot more from iVita now that Top Shelf Extracts is doing their stuff.

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

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