Medical marijuana dispensary review: The Health Center University Hills

The Health Center's two locations couldn't be more drastically different in form, with the Uptown branch giving off a quaint, cozy, neighborhood vibe and the University Hills outlet coming off as much more straightforward and businesslike.

But what unites them is what matters most: quality cannabis and low prices worth making the dispensaries your primary centers.

The Health Center University Hills

2777 S. Colorado Blvd. Denver, CO 80222 303-758-9997

Raw marijuana price range: $8-$10/gram $30-$32/eighth-ounce, $175-$200/ounce. Other types of medicine: Edibles, lotions, tinctures, wax, shatter oil (from both trim and bud), clones. Online menu? Yes. Handicap-accessible? Yes.

The Uptown shop takes up the bottom floor of a two-story building far to the south down Colorado Boulevard, with a few spots out front for parking and more in the back after squeezing through a narrow alleyway. There are signs everywhere warning people against parking next door at Junkman, which is apparently fond of towing cars.

I made the mistake of cruising down at the height of rush hour, which not only meant getting stuck in traffic, but sitting in line at the center as three people ahead of me took their sweet time at the bud bar. To their credit, the budtenders treated everyone the same and didn't rush anyone out the door. It's just that when you're ready to get home at the end of the day, hearing another patient holding you up over a family story that has nothing to do with medical marijuana can be a bit much.

After fifteen minutes of sifting through a few pot-centric magazines lying around in the simple, clean and coffee-stocked waiting room, the receptionist behind the counter gave me the green light. The first little room is set up as a plant nursery, albeit a fancy one, with stylish wood, steel-and-frosted-glass counters and lightboxes.

I've been told by several readers over the years that the Health Center's University Hill's location is the place to go for clones. But the selection on hand when I stopped by wasn't huge, with William's Wonder and a strain I don't recall up for $15 a pop. My budtender said there had been some health issues with the last crop of clones. That left just a few survivors growing in a cabinet behind an auxiliary bud bar in a separate room devoted strictly to the clones.

The bud bar is in a similarly small room, with glass display cabinets separating the budtenders from the patients. I was there at the same time as the woman who had walked in ahead of me; she occupied the concentrates counter on the left while I took up most of the space on the right as I looked at the roughly two dozen strains sealed in hinge-top Mason jars and pop-top square glass containers. Like THC's Uptown shop, bud is broken into two price tiers based not on quality so much as it is on quantity. There are also a few discount strains going for less.

First-timers get patient pricing, which brings things down to really reasonable (if not cheap) pricing on some pretty decent ganja. Frankly, I stopped by the shop this week mostly because I knew what I could expect and hoped it still lived up to what I remembered. Thankfully, it did.

Up first was an Island Sweet Skunk phenotype with this billing: "Rupert: -- an outstanding name for just about anything, including pets, cars, children and, now, cannabis." In typical ISS fashion, it was very fruity and skunky, but it also had a slightly musky haziness to both the smell and flavor out of a clean dry pipe. I only snagged a gram of it (hence the tiny buds pictured), but you can still see the neon-orange pistils and beach-sand-colored trichomes dusting the lime-green buds. It's one of my all-time favorite kick-starters for a failing appetite, and I only needed two or three hits to get the belly growling within ten minutes. As ISS can be, it was also very uplifting mentally, if not borderline spacey.

Continue for more cannabis photos and the rest of the review. The C4 was chosen only after some consideration to a few other stinky, well-done Diesel/Chemdawg/Kush-related strains, like a rich, soil-like Cali Chem, lemony Deadhead OG, standard Tahoe OG and a White Fire OG phenotype dubbed Astros OG that had a tangy-sweet smell nearly identical to hot molasses. The shop also had a really, really impressive crop of SAGE, one of those strains that smells like rotting fruit when it's grown really well but still somehow remains appealing. A shop special, the Ultra-Sonja was also intriguing, with grape, cherry and some black pepper spice to the smell.

But the C4 won out by a nose. Literally, the smell was what sold me on this, thanks to a rubbery funkiness like a new pool float or fresh tube of tennis balls. The buds had a yellowing, rusty orange appearance, and up close, the swollen, stacked silver trichomes gave it a snow-blown look. Very potent and very stoney, the C4 is an all-around herb for pain and stress management that won't suck you into an early bedtime. The sample I brought home was dried and cured very well, with a lot of flavor through the first few hits and nothing left behind but a fine white ash at the end.

The Tangerine, a cross between Grapefruit and Flo, came out really, really heavy on the eucalyptus menthol sweetness of the Flo -- very fat, round yellow-green buds with tiny, short trichome glands. The buds scoped clean and burned down very nicely to a white ash in a pipe. Out of a vape, the bud's flavor really came out, and I think the Tangerine spent more time in my Silver Surfer than any other bud in a long time. Very speedy, ADD-busting strain here, and I was up cleaning the house after burning a bowl without even thinking.

The Health Center contracts BHO and shatter hashes from outside vendors. Stay Concentrated handles the shatter, producing a regular $40 gram of shatter, de-waxed shatter for $5 more, and an insanely expensive $70 gram of shatter made exclusively from buds and not trim. I opted for a gram of the basic shatter made from a mix of Pre-98 Bubba Kush and El Diablo dubbed Pre03 Kobe. The same concentrate won the shop third place in the High Times Cannabis Cup back in April, and it was easy to see why. Despite not being de-waxed, the oil held clarity for days (still clear, actually) and vaporized on a titanium nail with a full-flavored kushiness capable of punching you straight in the cerebellum. At $40 a gram, this is right in the perfect price range. I'd love to try the flower-only shatter, but I can't imagine how it would be $30 more potent and flavor-filled than it already is.

The shop plans to convert to a dual-use recreational and medical dispensary after the new year and is already preparing for it. One of the budtenders told me there's an unused basement space being built out, but also mentioned that the staff isn't in any hurry to get things finished, since the licensing process takes forever. We talked more as my purchase was being bagged up, and he says he predicts a shortage of cannabis after the new year in Denver shops, plus a price increase across the board as more and more shops make the transition. Medical marijuana patients will still be taken care of, though, he said.

Either way, the shop should be worth checking out once the transition is complete, whether you're a longtime patient or a newfound recreational toker.

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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William Breathes
Contact: William Breathes