Medical marijuana dispensary review: Karmaceuticals in Denver

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Some of my most vivid summer memories involve going to the local plant nursery with my pops when I was a kid. But while recollections of hauling mulch or soil back to the family station wagon still linger, what stands out most to me is the olfactory reaction to the chemical aroma that bags of chemical plant fertilizer can put off. To this day, walking into the garden center of a Home Depot brings it all back in a weird way. Which isn't a bad thing when you're expecting it.

Karmaceuticals L.L.C.

4 South Santa Fe Dr. Denver, CO 80233 (303) 765-2762 MMJKarma.com

Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Raw marijuana price range: $29-33/eighth-ounce, $190-$200/ounce. Raw marijuana price range (members): $25/eighth-ounce, $180/ounce plus daily specials. Other types of medicine: BHO, CO2 oil, kief, edibles, marijuana butter, tinctures, lotions, drinks. Online menu? Yes, though it needs updating. Handicap-accessible? Yes.

But when you're not expecting it -- as I wasn't when I walked into Karmaceuticals -- it can be completely overwhelming. I actually stood, confused, in the entryway for a second, thinking I had unknowingly entered one of the hydro stores that have popped up over the last few years. Instead of the usual dispensary regalia of pot pictures and green walls, the place looks (and smells) like the storage shed of a garden center, and no wonder. Pool and foosball tables take up most of the floor space, but there's still room for a huge rack of fertilizers and plant food from a handful of companies.

The rest of the lobby/entry/reception area/market was stocked with loads of everything you could ever imagine needing along with your herb, including in-house CO2-oil vape pens, tie-dye shirts, flat-brimmed hats, clones, nutrients, pipes, dabbers, domes, edibles, cultivation books, papers and grinders. It was like the Johnson's Corner of dispensaries -- though to be fair, Johnson's Corner is way less cluttered.

Two competing stereos fought it out inside, with the classic-rock Pandora station in the tiny bud room off to the side of the receptionist desk slightly edging out the '90s-rock Pandora station playing on the receptionist's computer. I looked around at the various knickknacks and checked out the in-house pen, the Instant Karma Veloce, which uses a cotton wick to draw oil from its reservoir into the heating element.

By the time I was sent back to the bud bar, the smell of chemical nutrients in the room was giving me a headache that was only compounded by the stuffy, hot bar. It was easily as hot in the room as it was outside in the afternoon sun on the pavement on Santa Fe, which didn't make browsing the tight, cluttered space very easy. Apparently, the shop normally has AC, but the power company was dragging ass to come out and fix whatever the problem happened to be.

There's not really a bar at Karmaceuticals, just a multi-level shelf unit with more than sixty different jars lined up. Patients are free to pull down any one they want and check it out on their own time. My budtender, an older woman who would have looked at home at an Allman Brothers show, mostly just stood by while I sniffed my way through about half of the jars, always finding something to say about every strain ("That's a good one" or "That's a very good one"). But not everything was "very good" or even "good." In fact, many of the strains were completely underdeveloped, and what was in the jars was down to the shakey bits and pieces. That was definitely true of the Triple Diesel, Blackberry (or possibly Black Karma) Kush and Lemon G.

Continue for the rest of the review, plus more photos. The other problem I kept running into was that everything smelled exactly the same: skunky wet hay with a spraying of nutrients on the side. The lower down I got on the shelves, the more I noticed a pungent chemical/turpentine blast with every sniff of hot air from jars like the Mango, Goat and Green Crack.

It probably had something to do with the temperature of the jars themselves, which were baking in the 95 degree-plus oven. By the time I was through the first twenty or so strains, I started to think Karmaceuticals might be the first shop that I walked out of empty-handed. Which sucks, as reviews online of the place had been just short of stellar.

Instead, I opted for the budtender's pick of the MTF and the Blue Dream -- the most strain-distinct-smelling buds I could find with any substance to them. The Thunder Fuck turned out to be the better of the two, with a more pronounced sugary smell and flavor. It did snap, crackle and pop when lit in a bowl and smoked harsher than this usually smooth strain can. Potency wasn't off the charts, but it certainly packed a solid little buzz for an hour and a half or so before quickly wearing off.

I managed to take the few buds left in the stock jar of Blue Dream home with me, but after breaking them up, the light, fluffy, airy flowers crumbled into shakey bits just the same. Every now and then, I got a hint of the trademark Blue Dream lavender tone, but the buds also had a powerful cedar smell. That could either be due to some genetic craziness going on or actual cedar oil, which can help clear up gnat problems in a garden. Like the MTF, the Blue Dream had the same Rice Krispies thing going on when smoked, but with little of the soothing, rich smoke that Blue Dream has for me.

As for concentrates, the shop did win a Cannabis Cup for its butane-extracted Gucci Earwax. But don't expect to see any of that on the shelf. Instead, it was $35 grams of mid-grade wax and $20 grams of stuff the center was trying to clear out. I opted for one of the cheap grams, if only to again demonstrate to myself why only the best waxes and oils are worth smoking. It smelled like a melted pool float and left a glob of disgusting black shit behind in my nail. I tossed it out after half a hit.

By the time I left, my wallet was considerably lighter (I spent about $40) and so was my head, which had begun to thump uncontrollably. Overall, I like what Karmaceuticals is going for as a community one-stop for grow supplies and stuff to smoke while you wait for your own harvest. But the execution needs to come around to the idea. It's no doubt great for growers, and it's cool that the shop promotes growing your own and even sells clones. But that doesn't change the borderline-toxic odors wafting through the place or the mediocre, warehouse-quality buds on the shelf.

Read more reviews from Westword's medical marijuana dispensary critic, William Breathes, in our Mile Highs and Lows blog, and keep up with all your Colorado marijuana news over at The Latest Word.

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