Medical marijuana dispensary review: Lightshade Labs in northeast Denver

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With every trip back and forth to Denver International Airport this summer to pick up visiting friends and family, I've become increasingly excited for the light-rail train to DIA. Not only will it finally put Denver up there with other real cities that have real public rail transportation from their airports to city centers, but it means that I will never again have to pick up or drop off anyone at the airport, which will keep trips through I-70 traffic to a minimum. I imagine that most of the metro area is in agreement that this will be to a greater good.

Lightshade Labs

11975 40th Avenue Denver, CO 80239 720-974-7220 LightShade.com

Hours: 9 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. Raw marijuana price range: $20-$30/eighth-ounce, $125-$175/ounce. Members also receive additional monthly discounts. Raw marijuana price range (non-members): $25-$25/eighth-ounce, $150-$200/ounce. Other types of medicine: BHO, icewater hash, marijuana butter, tinctures, lotions, drinks. Online menu? Yes (with current test results) Handicap-accessible? Yes.

Of course, without that drive, I would have no clue that the Denver Mattress factory bursts into a psychedelic wonderland of flashing colors at night. I also wouldn't have found Lightshade Labs' location on 40th Avenue in north Denver, with its back to the interstate and massive "DISPENSARY" sign on the building.

The location is the second for Lightshade Labs, which also operates out of the former Heartland Dispensary location north of the Park Hill golf course. Technically, it's still the same shop -- just with a new name. Apparently, an actual pharmacy named Heartland Pharmacy in Maine or Michigan sent over a cease-and-desist order, and so Lightshade Labs was born. As for this second location, it was formerly another dispensary as well: Colorado Farms, Inc., which takes up about two-thirds of a small industrial warehouse center on 40th Avenue.

I pulled up and parked between two cars that were still running, full of bodies waiting on whoever was inside to finish up their two-ounce purchases. By comparison, the three grams of medicine I eventually brought home were a drop in the bucket for the shop, which must have cleared about six of the $175 ounces during the fifteen minutes I was visiting. There's a small waiting room up front, painted bright white, with a few magazines strewn about a table. I was greeted by a receptionist just beyond a glass partition. A huge flat-screen TV was hung on the wall to the left, though nothing was on the day I was in; to the right are a water fountain and an ATM, though the store also still takes credit cards.

After a few minutes of the girl behind the counter inputting my information, I was buzzed through a security door to the inner workings and the bud-bar area. While it seems like this Lightshade Labs would have a sizable bud area, it actually felt cramped; the receptionist area seems to take up more of the space than the customer bud bar does.

White counters everywhere give the place a clean, fast-fashion retail feel -- as if H&M sold Sour Diesel. Bud is stored in small half-ounce sample jars at three customer stations to the left as you walk in the door. The ganja stock for patients is pre-weighed in sealed baggies and kept in bins in a tall, pantry-like shelf unit behind the receptionist area. Once you make your selection, the budtender rings up a receipt and you turn around and hand it to another dispensary worker, who fishes your order out of the bins full of buds. Edibles are kept along the back wall, hung up on pegs and displayed here and there along the counter.

As a first-time patient, you receive member pricing and a $10 eighth of in-house Lavender Jones -- a tangerine-haze-smelling strain that looked decent if maybe a little bit warehouse-generic, with a tight machine trim. It was the first jar my budtender, a shorter guy with the slick look of a used-car salesman, pulled out for me to look at. Before I could even finish getting a whiff of the strain, he was asking me: "So, do you want that?"

I hadn't even looked at the other buds on the shelf yet, so his pushiness came off as "We need to get rid of this mediocre strain of which we have an abundance." I told the guy that, no, I was hoping to find something more interesting and better grown, and made him start pulling out sample jars for me to look at.

Page down for the rest of the review and photos.

Thankfully, the rest of the selection was more appealing than the $10 bag. Buds like the chunky, ripe Blueberry Diesel had a strong, spicy haze smell and were good examples of what the shop could do. The same goes for the Earth OG, which didn't have the rich, soil-like rubber tart smell, but nevertheless had a strong skunkiness and a slathering of amber trichomes, like someone had dropped it in cornstarch. The Bruce Banner #3 was also memorable for the inch-long foxtails branching away from the bud mass like sticky green alien fingers.

I ended up with a chunk of the famed (and over-hyped) Girl Scout Cookies. This Bay Area strain is allegedly a mix of Durban and an OG Kush. Few shops have this, though I have seen an excellent example grown by a private caregiver friend. The sugary, shortbread-sweet bud of lime-green, trichome-laced goodness I brought home from Lightshade wasn't near the same level of quality, but it did have the same uniquely sugary, shortbread-sweet smell and was dusted in a layer of fine yellow crystals. It was an uplifting, enjoyable smoke that was great for a summer's-day puff. Mildly psychedelic and generally euphoric, it also stoked an appetite about an hour after smoking.

I also brought home some Romulan, mostly because the pickings were slim for other strains sold by the gram. I've been saying this since the beginning: Pre-weighed buds are a letdown. You hardly ever get herb as good as you see in the sample jars. It feels like a bait-and-switch move going from the sample jar of huge, chunky Romulan buds to picking out a pre-weighed, meager gram from the leafy selections they had weighed out. I guess on some levels it makes sense from a business standpoint, but if you're paying budtenders to work, you might as well have them actually weigh out the buds they're selling for each patient. This is like an assembly line: Get the patients in, make a selection, move them along to another counter so the bud bar can take another customer, repeat.

Despite that -- and the lackluster bag appeal of the squished-flat, machine-trimmed buds I brought home -- the Romulan was actually a solid purchase. I like this strain and everything it is bred from for the distinctly sweet-tart flavor and smell it brings. As I ripped off the top of the childproof bag, the Lemon Pledge smell instantly engulfed my office. Breaking up the tiny citrus buds left my fingers waxy, as though I had been handling a lemon rind; they smoked down to a clean, white ash with a full, strain-distinct flavor. Lightshade's Romulan might not have been a looker, but the ripeness was enjoyable, and the potency was great for relaxing after a day's work -- and perfect for pain.

They also had different levels of BHO on display in the case, from waxes to shatters. Actually, I should say it was advertised as shatter. What I brought home might have been clear at one point, but it had converted back into a melted-crayon-like substance. I couldn't tell that in the shop, however, as the small baggie was pre-sealed. It was a $30 guessing game, and I lost -- sort of. While I'm not a huge fan of smoking waxes these days, this GDP packed an incredibly stoney punch and burned out clean on my nail with a fresh, earthy-hashy taste. Of course, it would have been nice if it was real shatter oil and had kept its consistency. The lower-grade hashes on deck were from Rest and Relaxation (the ones with the back-to-back "R" on the labels), a company I have yet to see produce good BHO.

Pre-weighed pot aside, Lightshade seems to be picking up where Heartland left off: Herb was clean and generally well produced, prices were reasonable, the staff was nice, and it was an in-out process. The place isn't worth a drive from central Denver with all of the other options around, but if you find yourself making DIA runs and are in need of something to puff, it might be worth the detour.

Until the train comes, that is.

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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