Tips for dispensary goers who want to "shop local"

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Where's it all coming from? That's the big question about Colorado's booming medical-marijuana scene. With all these new dispensaries opening up, people want to know where, exactly, the product for sale originated. According to drug-enforcement officials quoted today in the Denver Post,, some of it may be coming from international drug cartels. It's the sort of inflammatory, unsubstantiated claim that gets marijuana activists in a tizzy, though in some instances authorities might be right. According to Kevin, owner of a major medical-marijuana grow facility in southern Colorado, one of his fellow dispensary providers approached him last month about getting in on a deal to purchase Mexican-grown pot -- weed they could get at the unbelievable price of $100 a kilo as long as they signed up for at least a hundred kilos.

Kevin, who declines to give his last name, says he declined the offer, but others may have jumped at the deal. So how can you tell whether the stuff you're buying at your corner dispensary isn't shipped in from parts unknown? It's not easy, says Kevin, since he's heard about a lot of non-Colorado medicine moving through dispensaries. "It's almost impossible to tell," he adds, especially since he says some owners change the names of strains once they purchase them from vendors to disguise their suppliers. That means the eighth of "AK-47" you just purchased may actually be "Train Wreck."

The Colorado pot-advocacy organization Cannabis Therapy Institute says it's encouraging dispensaries to sign up for its new "Always Buy Colorado Cannabis" pledge, but with no third-party verification system, such a pledge is as reliable as companies who stick an amorphous "All Natural" seal on their logo.

So what's a concerned medical marijuana patient to do? Here are some tips savvy shoppers can use to attempt to shop local:

  1. Avoid outdoor strains during colder months. Think like localvores do when they stop in Whole Foods. Just like that asparagus for sale in the middle of January clearly wasn't grown around these parts, marijuana strains that are usually grown outdoors won't be common on Colorado shelves in the dead of winter unless they're coming from milder climes like California and Mexico. Many sativas, for example, tend to be grown outdoors because they shoot up to towering heights during flowering. Some sky-scraping sativas Kevin says to watch out for include "Pot of Gold," "God Bud," "Stinky Pinky," "Shaman," "Mr. Bubble" and Afghani strains. Then again, even these lanky plants could, theoretically, be grown indoors. Kevin has a colleague with greenhouse featuring a 24-foot ceiling -- more than high enough to handle even the tallest pot trees.
  2. Mexican Swag comes from Mexico. This may seem like a no-brainer. Then again, it's not like all French fries and French toast come from France. But in the case of "Mexican swag," the low-grade, vacuum-sealed stuff you can get at a steal, the label's exactly right. "It had to come from another county. You will never see American brick weed," says Kevin. "Nobody in the United States grows massive quantities of Mexican herb and then throws it into a trash compacter and squishes it down so it has to be sold for $25 for a quarter when they can sell it non-compressed for $100 a quarter." The only reason to do so is if you have to smuggle it past border authorities. In other words, not only will you look like a miser if you buy ditch weed, you could be helping out the Mexican cartels. Ay caramba!
  3. Take a good, hard look at the product. Even if the brick weed for sale is no longer sealed in a brick, it's pretty easy to determine its provenance, says Kevin: "Usually if the nugs look really aged and really compacted, sometimes that's a sign it comes from out of the state. It doesn't have the nice, fresh appearance of stuff that's just a month old." Many dispensary workers let customers take a close look at their product; some even have microscopes. If an operation is reluctant to show off its wares, that could be a red flag. After all, unlike wine, marijuana doesn't get better with age.

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