Medical marijuana dispensary review: Southwest Alternative Care in Denver

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So much has changed at Southwest Alternative Care since 2011 that it might as well be a new dispensary. The shop has moved from its strange loft above a mattress store to a stand-alone warehouse spot just a few miles east and expanded to a second location on Colfax. Plus, former head grower Scott Reach shifted to River Rock, where he's since expanded his Rare Dankness line.

But through it all, one thing has remained constant: the top-quality flowers being offered to patients.

Southwest Alternative Care

1075 S Fox St. Denver, CO 80223 (303) 593-2931

Hours: 10 a.m. to 6:50 p.m. daily. Raw marijuana price range (members): $20-25/eighth-ounce, $175/ounce cap. Non-members pay about 10 percent more. Other types of medicine: BHO, shatter, hash, edibles. Online menu? No. Handicap-accessible? Yes.

I actually haven't been dispensary shopping out of necessity in a while, which is good, considering the shops I've been to over the last month had little to offer. But with caregiver meds running low, I needed to find something truly worthwhile to tide me over for the next week.

The building is pretty nondescript out front. There's no huge, obnoxious sign or gallons of green paint covering the front of the building. It fits in with the other warehouses surrounding it, and I doubt many people filling up at the Conoco next door even know why there is a steady flow of people coming and going. Meanwhile, the gas station itself is likely doing well from all of the ATM transactions, as SWAC doesn't take cards and has no cash machine on site.

Normally, dispensaries either smell like skunk butts, fertilizer or hay, depending on the quality of bud being sold. Southwest Alternative Care might very well fall in the skunk category, but the day I visited, it had more of a sesame-chicken vibe going from the boxed Chinese-food lunches the three employees were grubbing. After handing my card over to the receptionist behind the glass partition in the entry, I was buzzed through to "the couch," as they referred to their waiting room. It makes sense, as there's not much else in there besides a couch, a few magazines and the doors to the customer/employee bathrooms. I waited on a patient to finish up ahead of me and was called further back to the bud bar after the guy ahead of me finished up and walked out.

The shop was to-the-point but still managed to be comfortable and welcoming. Ganja was displayed in small sample jars set out on a large, curved, belly-high counter. Edibles were on a display rack to the side and the shop kept all the paraphernalia in a cabinet along a separate wall. Concentrates were on display in a little dish; the shop had a few grams of some decent-looking wax and shatter from Native Roots going for $25 and $30 a gram.

Southwest also produces its own excellent bubble hash, with blends and strain-specific options separated out by the micron filtration level. I haven't seen good icewater-made hash in a long time at a dispensary and immediately jumped at the 70 micron Cherry Diesel, which looked like crumble of lightly melted caramel and smelled nearly as sweet. The chunk of hash broke down like a warm crayon and melted about as smoothly into the bowl, the huge bubbles accompanied by a notably strong earthy-Diesel flavor.

Continue for the rest of the review and photos. Of course, good hash comes from good bud. I was immediately impressed with the selection of unique and uncommon genetics, including Dope, Cherry Diesel and a wide range of Kush strains. But everything else seemed to be really, really well grown and cured, too. Every jar had a distinctly different, pungent odor. Even the ones with similar genetics had unique qualities. If you're headed there this week, the Chem 4, Diagonal Kush and the Glowing Goat (Golden Goat x The White) were all worth giving a shot.

For something sativa-strong, I went with the sugary, citrus funk of the Tango -- a cross of Orange Crush and Mango. The result is an orange-heavy smell and flavor with an underlying haziness from the spear-like buds. The silver dusting of trichomes tucked under the fuzz of orange pistils was impressive, though the effects could have been a little stronger, considering the size of the bowls I was taking down. Nevertheless, it left me with a coffee jolt of energy in the morning after smoking to increase my appetite. Definitely an excellent purchase at $25 for members and about $30 for non-members, and a sativa I'd like to see more of down the line.

My second purchase was an eighth of Stardawg. Or at least that's what I asked for. Instead, my budtender bagged up an eighth of the Glowing Goat. It's understandable, considering I kept talking about that strain as she was weighing out my selections, but I didn't notice the mistake until after I had left and was filling up my car next door. And here's where it's worth it to mention the customer service at Southwest Alternative Care.

After a lot of debate, I actually went back to the shop, waited in line behind a couple that had walked in just before me and then explained my situation to the somewhat-surprised receptionist. Instead of laughing me off as a moron or telling me that nothing could be done to help, she buzzed me back again and jumped through several hoops to make it right for me. Not once did anyone seem irritated or annoyed, even though I clearly had gunked up the system and was making people wait in line. (If you are reading this, I'm sorry for being that guy).

The hassle was worth it. The Stardawg was the most pungent strain on the shelf. I almost got high just sniffing the rubbery, lemony funkiness. The chunky little buds were dried and cured perfectly, burning down to a snow-white, powdery ash every time, with a fullness to the flavor that left me smacking my lips for an hour after the bowl was finished. Much more potent than the Tango, the buds left me with a very relaxing, stress-relieving buzz without ruining my functionality for the day. The only problem was not being able to stop taking one-hits of it for the flavor alone. I wish more shops selling $25 eighths to patients sold herb this well-produced.

Member pricing caps ounces at $175, and this is (still) certainly a place worth considering as your primary center. But you don't have to make that switch to get decent pricing, either. First-timers get member pricing for a week and there are sales every Tuesday and Friday that bring some strains down to $18/eighth and $140 an ounce. Even if you've got a private caregiver, it's nice to have a reliable shop like this for some variety now and then.

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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