Mile Highs and Lows: GreenBelly Co-op

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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: The Wildflower Seed reviews GreenBelly Co-Op

GreenBelly Co-op Eldorado Springs 720-381-6187 www.greenbellycoop.com

Hours of operation: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday; call for appointment. Owner: Brett Kassels Owner's statement: "I come from a social-service and nonprofit background. When I started working with a caregiver, I saw a lot of overlaps, as far as the core values" -- such as holistic medicine and urban gardening -- "and providing that in a socially conscious way." Opened: June 2009 Raw marijuana price range: $8 to $15 per gram; $235 to $375 per ounce. Other types of medicine: Glycerin tinctures, cannabis capsules, massage oils and salves, hash and hash oil, candy, hummus, pesto, fudge, ice cream, etc. Edibles run $5 to $15. Patient services and amenities: ADA-accessible, seasonable smoking patio, delivery seven days (with 24-hour notice), doctor referrals as well as referrals to a network of Eldorado Springs body workers such as massage, reiki, etc.

Our take: Tucked between towering peaks split by rushing whitewater, Eldorado Springs seems lost in time -- in a good way. On the one hand, it has a century-old resort built around an artesian, spring-fed pool; on the other, it has a relatively new medical marijuana dispensary, Green Belly Co-op.

I took the Boulder Turnpike to the Marshal exit and followed the road through the hogbacks until I crossed Highway 93 and saw the Flatirons stacked like bones along the skyline. My back was killing me as I headed into Eldorado Canyon, my own arthritic bones snapping and cracking, a sharp pain burrowing its way through my nerves. The feeling didn't fit the beauty of the landscape, and I looked forward to relieving it so that I could go hiking.

Much of the town is laid out along a single dirt road, but I still managed to get lost and drive all the way to the entrance of the state park, a natural wonder nestled next to the Eldorado Natural Spring Water bottling company and resort. Turning my car around, I dodged a couple of scruffy-looking locals (the town's residents are largely artists, rock climbers and hippies) and finally found the dispensary adjacent to the town's post office, in a discrete terra-cotta-pink adobe structure.

Inside, I was pleasantly surprised to find a professional waiting room, complete with fish tank and leather couches. The other clients were fleece-wearing, gray-haired peaceniks, and though my hair isn't gray (yet!), I felt like I fit right in. After filling out some paperwork, which included initialing two pages of line items, I was led by a sweater-clad young woman with a sweet smile to the back room, where the bud-tender awaited me with a tray of samples and a magnifying glass.

I went for the edibles right away. I make some fine "medibles" myself and am rarely tempted to shell out my hard-earned ducats for other people's stale oatmeal cookies -- but one look at this case and I was lingering, logically debating the pros and cons of chocolate marble fudge vs. Sour Diesel cinnamon ice cream. The ice cream won out, though the weather was rather like ice itself; at least I knew the stuff would stay frozen in my car while I hiked.

That choice made, I pulled myself up to the magnifying glass and started the ol' sniff-and-sample. GreenBelly is a co-op, and its members cultivate the on-sale medicine, grown organically in soil. Owner Brett Kassels sees cannabis as a catalyst for natural healing, as well as community gardening in general, and the co-op focuses on cultivating distinctive strains.

Some of the more than thirty offerings: Golden Goat; an Island Sweet Skunk crossed with pure sativa; a pure indica Hindu Kush; and a lovely Strawberry Cough hybrid. It keeps a steady supply of Sour Diesel on hand, and once a month gets Bordello -- Blackberry Apocalypse crossed with Sweet Tooth. None of the herb on display this day was overwhelmingly aromatic (perhaps my nose was still frozen from the negative digits outside), but under the spyglass, all the buds were carpeted with crystal-coated trichomes.

After bantering about strength, potency and effect with the tender, I mulled over the Mr. Nice Guy and the Sour Diesel before finally settling on some Island Sweet Skunk and Cinderella 99. Then the bud-tender grinned and handed me a complimentary "new member" medicinal lollipop. I think I skipped back to my car, a huge smile on my face. These people were my new best friends.

I headed back down the road, pulling off at a snow-packed trailhead and hoping my boots would hold up to the winter treatment I was about to smack on them. The trail was nice and easy, the snow tamped down by other hikers to a stable mat below my feet, and I settled into the winter silence. The sky, a steel-toned tapestry of blues and silvers, lay stretched across the mountains. I could taste the charged air as chinook winds slid off the towering rocks. A herd of deer made their way along the frozen ridge above me, but after I'd walked for a while without seeing another person, I found a place where I could escape the wind and sample my newly purchased wares.

My first thought as I took in the Cinderella 99: These are some truly heady nuggets. From there, my thoughts jumped around, eventually settling on the idea that perhaps the great ganja was the result of great cultivation -- hence the many benefits of local growers' co-ops like Green Belly.

I happily followed up with a few tokes of the Island Sweet Skunk, which had a candy taste and a nice burn. Although the air was thin and I had just sucked down several salad-style bowls, my head was clear as I resumed my hike. Even better, the hot poker of pain digging beneath my shoulder was tamped down to a tolerable simmer, and my sacroiliac joint wasn't so out of whack.

With a loud, chiropractic-style crack, my tailbone snapped back into place as I stepped over a large stone; for the first time in several days, my hip didn't pinch when I walked. I hiked on. Gazing at the peaks, I started to have spiritual thoughts about the etymology of the word "high" -- until I reluctantly realized that the pale light was fading, and turned to make my way back down the mountain.

It was dark by the time I drove out of the park. I remembered the ice cream and begrudgingly turned the heat down. That night, my husband and I curled up in bed with a laptop, hulu.com reruns of Lost and some Sour Diesel cinnamon ice cream with chocolate chips on top. My husband launched into an eloquently delivered "This is why I married you" speech -- a diversion, of course, to steal my share of the ice cream. It was yummy, and strong enough to break into several good doses.

And then, suddenly, I knew why I had chosen the ice cream back at GreenBelly. Each frosty, vaguely spicy, creamy white bite brought back the taste of Eldorado Canyon. The cold breath of the mountains, the white of the snow -- it was poetic, really. More than that, it was healing. Renewed, I drifted off to dreams that tasted like cinnamon and wind.

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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