Medical marijuana dispensary review: Alpine Herbal Wellness in Cherry Creek
Alpine Herbal Wellness isn't trying to attract the average-Joe medical patient with its slick, art gallery-meets-medical clinic atmosphere. I picture affluent baby-boomers walking to it from their million-dollar townhomes, Bernese mountain dogs in tow.
Alpine Herbal Wellness
Location: 313 Detroit St.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Owner: Nick King and Susan Harank.
Raw marijuana price range: $35 to $60 per eighth, non-member.
Other types of medicine: Edibles, hash, budder, tincture.
For being out in the open in Cherry Creek, Alpine Herbal Wellness is relatively discreet. It easily blends in with the knickknack stores surrounding it, aside from the sign above the door and a few printed pages of information on cannabis and herbal medicine in the front window. I walked in and was greeted by the extremely nice Judy, who also doubled as my budtender after my paperwork went through.
The office is tri-level, with a reception area to the left and a meeting room to the right as you walk in. Judy said that the shop doesn't have handicap access upstairs but can adapt by bringing a tray of bud samples down to the conference room for mobility-impaired patients. The second level offers a small lounge area with a few chairs and end tables for use when filling out the paperwork. There's also a large message board featuring fliers about various health ailments and a Mac set up on a desk against a small wall leading to the third floor for patient Internet browsing. It's the type of ephemera that is helpful for older patients who are likely to have a lot of questions about something they had been told their whole lives was an illegal drug useful only for getting high. The rest of the wall space is dominated by various abstract paintings.
Budtender Judy finished up copying my paperwork and led me up the second set of stairs to the bud bar. The place is set up to handle multiple customers, and their bar is more like the cashier stand at a casino, with three or four individual stations set up in the middle of the room. To the left are a few glass cases with pipes, vaporizers and other puffing paraphernalia. I saw a few third-party waxes and oils, as well as a big Keef Cola display. But otherwise, I didn't pay much attention to the edibles (as usual).
The bud is displayed as samples in spice jars under a glass countertop at each of the bud stations. The budtender slides the tray of spice jars out like a cash register drawer every time you want to see a cut. This made for a lot of "let me see that one" instead of simply grabbing for it and smelling it. Judy made sure to share her thoughts on each strain, occasionally admitting to not having tried a few. Within a few minutes, I had nearly a dozen of the strains on the counter, including a decent Grape Ape, a not-so-purple Purple Haze, an unappealing Big Wreck and some interesting Moby Dick.
Judy also pointed out the two $35 sale strains on hand and went into the pricing structure -- and that's where the shop started to lose me. For starters, Alpine has a $55 cap on meds for members and $60 for non-members. High prices are one thing, but high prices for herb that can be found at any average shop seemed a bit absurd to me.
Harank and co-owner (and husband) Nick King both pointed to the price war among dispensaries as artificially deflating the price of quality cannabis. King also said harder-to-grow strains like long-flowering sativas take more time, and therefore are often more expensive than other strains. True in theory, but why should patients who need a strong sativa have to pay more than patients who need a strong indica? Both also admitted that one of the biggest factors in their pricing is the type of clientele they tend to attract with their location and mission. As Harank says, "They are willing to pay for the quality medicine, the environment, the education and all of that."
But am I? Sometimes. Rarely, though, and only if the cannabis is good enough. As recently as a few weeks ago, I didn't bat an eye at the $60 price tag on some top-notch cannabis -- though to be fair, member pricing at that dispensary was capped at $45. Alpine Herbal Medicine, unfortunately, just wasn't at that level. In fact, some of the pricing seemed downright baffling. Asking members to pay $55 an eighth for things like mid-grade Lemon Skunk was hard to stomach -- even harder at $18 per gram. (That's a markup of about a buck and a quarter.) I've said this before: Charging more for the same meds just because people want to buy smaller amounts is hardly fair to patients.
Still, Harank and King must realize they can't remain competitive at this rate -- even in Cherry Creek -- because both said they're working on a lower price structure. A big part of the shift, Harank said, is that they have been working to build out their grow and streamline their harvesting process. The changes don't take effect until the start of August, though. So unless you really like overspending, I'd shop elsewhere for the next month.
Page down to see what William took home this week.