Mile Highs and Lows: Apothecary of Colorado

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This dispensary has closed.

As Colorado's medical-marijuana industry grows, marijuana dispensaries of all types and sizes are proliferating around the state. Some resemble swanky bars or sterile dentist offices; others feel like a dope dealer's college dorm room. To help keep them all straight, Westword will be offering a no-holds-barred look at what goes on behind these unusual operations' locked doors in "Mile Highs and Lows," a regular online review of dispensaries around the metro area and beyond. (You can also search Westword's directory of dispensaries for one near you.)

This week: William Breathes reviews Apothecary of Colorado.

Apothecary of Colorado 1730 Blake Street, Suite 420, Denver 303-296-5566 www.AOChealing.com

Hours of operation: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday; Sunday by appointment only. Owners: Wanda James and Scott Durrah Owners' statement: "We want to provide the best dispensary model for an emerging industry." Opened: December 2009 Raw marijuana price range: $20 to $25 per gram, $50 to $60 per eighth (plus tax, of course). Other types of medicine: Teas, hash, kief, pre-rolled joints, plants at all stages (clones, mamas). Patient services and amenities: Delivery services, ganja cooking classes, grow room consultation and setup.

Our take: Wanda James and Scott Durrah, the husband-and-wife owners of Apothecary of Colorado, say they want to set a new standard for pot clinics by creating a club atmosphere that encourages people to congregate and feel at home.

"We didn't want it to have the feel of it being something illegal," says James, who ran Jared Polis's 2008 campaign for Congress and was a prominent Barack Obama fundraiser. "We wanted it to be bright; we wanted it to be airy. We wanted it to be a place where you lose all sense of this as a drug -- because it is not. It is medicine that we are talking about here, and we are not doing anything illegal."

James and Durrah also own 8 Rivers, the modern Caribbean restaurant at 1550 Blake Street, just down the street from AOC, which is the couple's fourth restaurant. James was the artistic and creative designer for all the restaurants, and her touch shows in the dispensary design, too. There's a mellow, irie vibe about 8 Rivers that's complemented by chill music, pictures of Bob Marley on the wall and oversized furniture; the AOC has a mellow, brown-and-tan paint scheme and leather couches where patients can lounge and take a load off.

But behind the intentionally relaxed space is a professional business. The dispensary is located in suite 420 (of course) of a hip, contemporary warehouse-turned-loft, complete with a high-end surveillance system. Getting off the street was key. "When I did go into a few [dispensaries], it was sort of strange getting out of my car, and as soon as you get out of your car, everyone knew what you were doing," Durrah explains, dusting off his lingering Boston accent. In contrast, AOC "has a flow. You blend in with the people downstairs."

And blending in, James adds, is important to help people overcome the stigma that is still attached to cannabis. "We didn't do that to hide it, but to treat it like it is normal," she says. "We did this to move this industry forward. Scott and I are well-known amongst politicians... so it's very hard for people to look at us and say 'potheads.'"

They may not be potheads, but the two certainly know their pot -- and their patients. The majority of their patients are over 35, James says, and many are looking for alternative ways to medicate. Because of that, they have plans to open a gourmet food store in a room just past the bud bar. Durrah wants to tap into the expertise of his 8 Rivers cooks to create a wide range of edibles -- everything from breads and jellies to creams and oils for cooking. He's already started monthly ganja cooking classes for patients down the street at 8 Rivers (see "Pot Luck" in this week's Westword).

But the pride of their operation is clearly the herb itself.

Apothecary of Colorado has roughly sixty strains of pot growing in a 5,000-square-foot warehouse. In the counter on the day I visited were about a dozen strains, all grown at the AOC farm; AOC also sells fully rooted clones for $25 that are easily the strongest, healthiest clones I've ever seen for sale. The bud-tender was extremely welcoming; after discovering we share similar stomach ailments, he offered some of his own suggestions for meds.

Among the more enticing strains on hand were the Black Domina x OG Kush, Blueberry Northern Lights and some Cheese. The Cheese looked good but could have used a bit more time in the drying/curing phase. And the Big Foot, which had been recommended, stoned both my body and my head as promised, but it was spongy from being poorly cured, and smelled and tasted more like chlorophyll than anything else.

The Purple Kush x Mr. Nice Guy had an earthy smell and a dull color range, as well as an understated muskiness. But about five minutes after burning it, I got a heavy, relaxed feeling throughout my body, and any lingering aches and pains I may have had from the weekend's activities dissipated with the smoke filling my office. While it wasn't a cerebral mind high, it gave me the feeling of floating above myself without completely wrecking my ability to function.

The top, for me, was the AK-47. I'm a huge fan of fluffy popcorn nugs like AOC's AK, which had a distinct pine-forest smell mixed with a sweet and tangy haze scent that reminded me of fresh-cut birch. It had flavor to match, with the zesty taste overriding the burning plant long into the bowl -- though it only took a few rips to get me going. The staff at AOC tests the products and writes their own reviews, and the bud-tender nailed it with this one: "A cerebral, soaring type of high, more energetic, which can stimulate brain activity and creativity."

I second that, though I have to admit that the highest cerebral activity I achieved was making lunch.

William Breathes and the Wildflower Seed are the pot pen names of our two alternating medical marijuana dispensary reviewers. Read their bios here.

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