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Medical marijuana dispensary review: The Purple Dragon in Denver

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One of the first dudes I ever got stoned with in high school was a super metal-head named Eric who was into Dungeons and Dragons, wizards, warlocks and Tolkein novels. His room at his mom's house, where we would smoke after school, was a tribute to all of these things, featuring black-light posters, Graffix skull bongs and and a collection of dragon statues and figurines. It's been twenty years, but I distinctly remember a large lavender-and-green beast breathing a plume of orange fire out of it's mouth.

I really wanted that dude with his long goatee to be behind the counter at Purple Dragon when I walked in the door. He wasn't, but that turned out to be my only real disappointment.

The Purple Dragon

2243 Federal Blvd. Denver, CO 80211 303-501-2010

Hours:10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. Raw marijuana price range: $7-$8.50/gram $25-$30/eighth-ounce, $160-$185/ounce. Members receive 10 percent off purchase. Other types of medicine: Hash oil, bubble hash (weekends only), edbiles, tinctures, drinks. Online menu? Yes, though not regularly updated. Handicap-accessible? Yes.

The shop's decorators took its name literally. The purple paint on the old, one-inch brick façade and the dayglo orange green and orange you encounter are goofy and out of touch even on this stretch of Federal, which is blown-out with huge signs and colorful buildings. There's parking out front, though something tells me that the woman tending to the lawn of her home next door who gave me the stink eye as I walked out of my car would rather it not be so close to her garden.

The view through the security window inside was confusing at first: The room on the other side looked deserted, with empty shelves and no bud in the display cabinets. But when I buzzed the door, a woman came from around the corner, smiled at me and let me in after checking my card and ID. She then led me through the strangely abandoned room up front to the actual bud bar.

The display cases are set up in a "C"-shape, with bud and hash oil kept below the main counter; glass, papers and other accessories are in another, and edibles can be found in a third glass display case. The place is covered in posters for edibles products, weed-related art and other trappings more suited for a college dorm. But whatever. You can't expect hippies to not run pot shops, right?

The woman who had let me in was also my budtender. She handed my card off to a blond woman already behind the counter, who checked me in while my budtender and I checked out the eight-to-ten strains on hand. Apparently, that's a low number for the shop, and this claim was somewhat backed by the dozens of pre-made, colorful jar labels from other strains tacked on a back-wall board. Buds are broken down into two price ranges, based on which strains are (and aren't) grown in Canna nutrients and soil. The lower-priced, regular-soil strains sold at $7 a gram and $25 an eighth, so we started there.

Blue Cheese, Flo and "OG Kush" were the first three two-ounce sized stock jars the budtender laid out on the counter for me. I wasn't expecting much, but the jar of Flo set the tone right away with some amazingly ripe and plump buds stinking with the distinctive lavender odor. The ambiguously-named "OG Kush" jar was also decent, though more hashy and spicy smell-wise than the usually rubbery and earthy scents this strain should put out. The Cheese was the only jar not worth considering, and only then because it was down to the last wispy little quarter-ounce or so. Yet the buds still let out a solid, funky moldy cheese odor and had a dusting of silver trichomes all over each and every popcorn-sized bit. Continue for the rest of the review and photos. I opted for the Flo. Something about the relaxing, fruity odor was calling me and it didn't let me down. The buds were a little bit fresh and spongy, though the smell and flavor weren't hurt much by that. They burned with a sweet, relaxing berry taste down to a white ash and left me with a stress-ending buzz for a good three hours or so after four or five snaps out of a clean, dry pipe.

The two higher-priced strains in the shop ran at $8.50 a gram and $30 an eighth. If both the peppery, tangy Durban and the rotten tangerine Agent Orange were both slightly more plump than the cheaper strains, it wasn't by much. Or maybe the cheaper strains were just that good. Either way, I liked what I saw, but decided to bring home two more from the lower-shelf.

The Girl Scout Cookies was my first choice. There's a bunch of different claimed versions of this around, and frankly, I have no clue which Colorado shops have the real one at this point (I've only had hash made from the original while out in the Bay Area last year). But whatever it was, the Purple Dragon sample came across as sweet, lightly skunky and densely loaded with resins and trichomes. Breaking it down in my palm left a shiny gloss on my fingertips. The buds had a light but flavorful taste burned in a dry pipe -- a mix of sugary sweetness mixed in with earthy kushiness. Like the Flo, the buds peeled apart rather than snapped, but the flavor wasn't affected and they burned to a snow-white powder in my bowl.

Last on the list was the Sour Diesel. The dispensary equivalent of a cheeseburger, as I like to call it, is a good barometer for the ganja in the shop as a whole. If you can't get Sour D to at least smell right, you're probably not getting much else correct in the garden, either. And Purple Dragon does it well. The bubbly calxyes were a little on the wispy side and the buds weren't completely filled out, but the rubbery, new-Nikes stink of the bud was undeniable. The flavor was just as strong, making for a truly enjoyable vaporizer session to help build up an appetite or simply unwind without going down the Indica Highwy to Sleepville.

Concentrates were limited to half-grams of shatter made in-house, according to my budtender. The shop had about three-dozen half-grams laid out in tiny plastic containers on a black foam matt and they all looked great. I just don't have a need for concentrates this week, as I've been feeling pretty good lately and flowers have been treating me just fine. The shop also apparently has $10 grams of bubble hash on the weekends -- like it's brunch or something like that. But hey, I'm curious and it might be worth it on Saturday to see how good the icewater hash is if it's only offered two days each week. Edibles were the typical selection: Cheeba Chews, Dr. J's and a few other candies, drinks and teas.

In all, I walked out with a quarter-ounce for $50 plus $1.50 for the pop-top jars. The shop waives the fee if you bring the jars back on your next purchase, though. And I'll definitely make use of that next time I'm driving down Federal -- or randomly thinking of my old stoner friend.

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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