Medical marijuana dispensary review: Top Shelf Alternatives in Boulder

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This dispensary has closed.

Top Shelf Alternatives is a questionable name. The owners likely meant to suggest they carry top-shelf medicine compared to other shops in town, but depending on when you visit, it could mean the complete opposite.

Top Shelf Alternatives

1327 Spruce St Ste 300 (3rd Floor) Boulder, CO 80302 303-459-5335

www.topshelfalternatives.com Hours:11 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. Owner/manager: Michelle Tucker Opened: 2010 Raw marijuana prices for members: $35/eighth, not including tax. Raw marijuana prices for non-members: $35/eighth, not including tax. Online menu: Yes Other types of medicine: Hash, tinctures, edibles, BHO. Handicap accessible? Yes.

Last year, the shop was voted Best of Boulder by the Colorado Daily, and since that paper targets people who attend CU, the award gave me a good indication of what to expect: a shop where broke college students could pick up decent but cheap herb. It's located on Spruce Street at 13th, on the second floor of a commercial building just a few yards from the busy college bars of the Pearl Street Mall.

The generic smell of mixed herb hits as soon as you walk through the door from the street, and gets stronger as you walk up the stairs to the shop. I missed it, but the manager I spoke with after my visit said there was an elevator available, making the shop fully handicap accessible. The interior is painted in several colors, but the warm red walls grab most of your attention and energize the otherwise boring, doctor's office-esque space.

Nobody was behind the receptionist desk to the right as I walked in, but a woman behind a desk near the rear of the shop waved me back to her office, where she had me fill out a few forms before I could do my shopping. Paperwork was easy and I was finished before she had copied my red card and ID. Paperwork taken care of, I was led to the front of the dispensary and pointed in the direction of the bud bar, which takes up a small room next to the entrance. The woman gave me a quick rundown of what was on hand in the shop, including information about pricing and daily specials, before passing me off to the budtenders inside.

My first take confirmed my initial impression: strains and pricing scribbled on a white board behind the counter, slightly stoned employees behind the counter and jar after jar of leafy weed. There was an older guy ahead of me in line taking up every ounce of attention of three budtenders, who were crammed in behind the counter like ski valets trying to fit a tourist with rental gear.

The stock of herb was mostly kept in the glass case, though for some reason at least ten of the tall mason jars were popped open on the counter, airing out while the guy in front of me took his sweet-ass time. I would normally have waited, but with three budtenders behind the bar, I figured it wouldn't be that hard to be served. I was wrong.

After a minute of standing around staring at the case and waiting for one of the budtenders to even acknowledge me, I gave up and asked nobody in particular what was worth checking out. The reply was a vague gesture to the counter from one budtender to check out everything they had on the shelf. I was left to go through things like a bland Grapefruit, crunchy, an un-cheesy Cheese and a jar of shake being passed off as Sour Diesel.

Other reviews I have seen from customers have had nothing but nice things to say about the staff, so maybe the budtenders were having a hard day weighing out legal marijuana during my visit.

Top Shelf Alternatives also had two special strains, Blacktooth Grin and Lavender, at $15 per gram all the way up. I got a good look at both, and neither seemed to be of any better quality than the rest of the items on the shelf. If anything, cuts like the Golden Goat stood out more by having a strain-distinct smell. The budtender that pulled out the jar for me agreed that it wasn't their top in the shop, and he suggested I take home the Purple Sage instead.

The manager I spoke with on the phone said the shop just brought on a new master grower, and he has noticed improvement already over old crops -- the stuff he implied was on the shelf during my visit. He said the guy runs both hydro and coco-fiber setups and specializes in fruity, flavorful sativas like Golden Goat and Maui. The manager insisted that the most recent harvests of those strains have been fantastic.

As for their herb stock, nothing was awful, but little was impressive enough to make me want to take home more than two strains split over an eighth -- including the concentrates. But since the average price for an eighth of herb from an MMC in Boulder seems to still be about $50, based on my recent experience, I can see how this place got ranked near the top by simply keeping prices reasonable for the quality being offered.

Page down for this week's strain photos and reviews. Purple Sage: $35/eighth These crisp, purple little dingleberries of herb were pretty representative of everything in the shop. It was also the one recommendation from my otherwise silent and stoned budtender, so I figured that it must have been good to get him to say more than five words to me during out transaction. Immediately harsh as soon as the smoke hit my throat, causing me to back off on my hits and take little rippers from the bubbler to keep from popping with coughs like a balloon. To put the quality in perspective, it's the type of bud you'd smoke the first time it comes around at a party, but then pass on it the rest of the night. Split over a doobie and two bowls, I found the joint to be more tolerable -- and the best way to get the weighty, Valium-numbness that the strain had to offer. Golden Goat: $35/eighth Ah, the Goat. Its blast of sweet haziness with a zippy, menthol aftertaste and speedy, energetic effects are always a treat. The smoke smells nearly identical to the stinky flower when done right, and it leaves a tingle in your mouth afterward, like eating a fresh, cold pineapple. This cut from Top Shelf wasn't that good, though. More like a can of lukewarm Dole slices. Beat up buds surrounded with orange hairs and turf-green shake were all that I could see in the jar, but the smell from the genetics alone made it one of the few strain-specific cuts on hand. Under a scope, there were plenty of headless trichomes and mangled pistils, but otherwise the buds I took home were clean. Cracked open, the mostly crystal triches had a much healthier, Velcro-like appearance. While the taste wasn't as sensory-shocking as I've had in the past, the bud burned much better than I expected from its looks. Medium flavor maintained through the third hit or so before harshing out to a more generic, ashy taste. A small bowl before going out to the Rockies game on Friday night was enough for me to put down a burger and fries and still keep me buzzing through most of the nine-inning routing by San Francisco.

William Breathes is the pot pen name for Westword's roving medical marijuana dispensary critic. Check out more reviews from him at our Mile Highs and Lows blog, and catch up on all things marijuana-related in our marijuana archives.

Hey college students: Mile Highs and Lows is looking for an intern. Find out more here.

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