TELLURIDE – Because words like freedom, liberation and oppression have figured so prominently in our conversation, I half expect to learn that Jeff Lessard is a card-carrying conservative before our meeting is over.
Add to that his talk about the nation’s founding fathers and its Constitution and I begin to wonder if I’m about to hear him break into a chant of “run Sarah run,” like Sarah Palin supporters did recently at the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville.
Then I remind myself that Lessard is general manager of Alpine Wellness, one of the town’s three operating medical marijuana dispensaries – and we’re talking about ganja, not guns.
“The last doctor’s visit liberated 33 people from the street,” he tells me, explaining how the dispensary located upstairs at 300 W. Colorado Ave. recently arranged for a visiting physician to meet with more than 40 people seeking to purchase marijuana legally, now that dispensaries are popping up across the state in the wake of the Obama administration’s announcement last year that it would no longer spend federal money prosecuting dispensaries established legally, under state law.
Upon consulting with patients and reviewing their medical histories, the visiting doctor determined that the majority of them could benefit from using the plant, and provided them with the necessary recommendation forms for enrollment in the state medical marijuana registry.
In doing so he effectively freed them from illegal street purchases and “liberated” them, as Lessard puts it, from the risk of arrest for possession of even small amounts of the stuff they are ostensibly using to treat bona fide medical conditions.
“This is the sense of liberation that our forefathers wanted us to enjoy,” he says.
For smokers looking for liberation, Alpine Wellness has it in abundance. A recent count yielded 34 strains of cannabis, bearing catchy names like Heavenly Haze, Northernlights Blueberry, Romulan and Chemdawg sourced from Montrose, Ouray and San Miguel Counties.
“Top shelf” varieties run from $60 for an eighth of an ounce to $430 per ounce, while the lesser-grade Working Man’s that Lessard describes as “good for making butter” – that is, cannabis-infused butter, or “cannabutter,” for use as a spread on toast or as a key ingredient in brownies and other edibles – sells for $25 for an eighth of an ounce to $150 per ounce.
Alpine Wellness also sells hash, kief (the dried resin from the cannabis plant that contains a higher concentration of the psychoactive chemical tetrahydrocannabinol or THC), alcohol-based tinctures ($60 an ounce), plant clones ($20-40) a variety of sweet medicated edibles including fudge, snickerdoodles, peanut butter cups, truffle-like chocolate kief balls, brownies, hard candy and trail balls, as well savory goods including teriyaki and hot buffalo wing sauces, dry pasta, salad dressing and crackers.
Lessard also has a longer-range plan to expand his medicated offerings to hopefully include more savory items like hummus, baba ganoush and even frozen pizzas.
The company has also just located an off-site space for its new healing center at 218 B W. Colorado Ave. that will function as a sort of healthcare co-op where massage therapists and other practitioners of alternative modalities can book specific time slots to work with clients, instead of locking into a lease.
“It gives therapists who don’t have a space an opportunity to work,” Lessard says. “It’s difficult to sustain a rent in town.”
Members – that is, those who declare Alpine Wellness their primary caregiver – get $5 off every eighth of an ounce of herb and access to the dispensary’s “chill room” overlooking Elks Park with free coffee, tea, wireless internet access and a ping-pong table.
Plans to bring in a Wii video game console and big screen TV are also in the works.
In addition to sales specials like “Top Shelf Tuesdays,” when the highest-grade herb sells at mid-range prices ($50 per eighth to $350 per ounce) and “Freedom Friday” that offers a free “wellness joints” (a $14 value) to medical marijuana cardholders who make purchase of $100 or more, the dispensary stocks a wide range of ancillary products including lighters, rolling papers and machines, flavored blunt wraps, pipes, pipe cleaners, bubblers (portable bongs), glass bongs, and the hottest trend in inhalation devices – vaporizers.
Vaporizers work by heating marijuana to the point where the THC is released without actually burning the herb – said to be a healthier alternative to smoking.
Books, T-shirts, hemp-based soaps, organic teas and Dr. Fungi tincture, tonics and salves containing medicinal mushrooms are also for sale.
At Legally Supplied Marijuana For Telluride or L.S.M.F.T. – a playful take on the old Lucky Strike cigarette slogan “Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco,” owner Neal Elinoff admits to a more capitalistic motive behind his new dispensary downstairs from his jewelry and fine art gallery at 204 W. Colorado.
“I have space that I couldn’t get rented and I needed to make productive use of it,” he explained, noting that jewelry and art haven’t exactly been flying out of his store in the present recession.
“I needed to start another business,” he said.
So now L.S.M.F.T. has a variety of 12 to 15 strains of cannabis available, with names like White Rhino, Big Bud and Organic Afghan Kush with Snow White, as well as plant clones ($25), medicated fudge, organic chocolate-chip cookie dough and alcohol-based tinctures ($45 an ounce).
All L.S.M.F.T.’s herb sell for $50 per eighth of an ounce to $350 per ounce, but patients who name the dispensary their primary caregiver get a free one-eighth of an ounce every 30 days.
I ask Elinoff why a guy who got into the dispensary business to make money is giving away free “medicine,” as those in the industry prefer to refer to pot. He tells me his motives have changed since opening up shop because he now sees that many people have real physical ailments that respond positively to the herb that has been stigmatized for so long.
“Even if I don’t make money, I’m glad to be able to provide if for the people who use it,” he says.
Besides, “Most medical marijuana users really need more than an eighth in a month,” Elinoff reasons. “If you need more, there’s no reason to buy it on the street anymore.”
Members also can hang out in the dispensary’s massage chair, read from its cannabis-centered library and get free coffee and tea.
“People who have been using medicine generally don’t have the resources to meet other users in an environment that is not stigmatized,” Elinoff says.
“They really need information…so we’re providing an environment where people can research it.”
In addition to medicine, L.S.M.F.T. is stocking the usual ancillary objects, including T-shirts with a catchy cannabis leaf logo, flavored blunt wraps, one-hit pipes and the small box with a separate medicine compartment they come in (called bats and dugouts, $29.95), stylish etched glass bongs that appear more art glass than anything else, digital vaporizers, herb grinders ($19.95) and even lava lamps.
L.S.M.F.T., like Alpine Wellness, is also coordinating with a physician who will visit town every few weeks in order to review patient medical histories and write recommendations for those who qualify.
For those who need to see the doctor between scheduled visits here in town, they’ll help facilitate an appointment.
At a completely opposite end of the spectrum for Alpine Wellness and L.S.M.F.T. is the Telluride Herb Company or T.H.C – yes, that’s a take on the active chemical in marijuana – which doesn’t advertise its address or services (by appointment only).
It’s an attempt to operate below the radar, yes, but not for any nefarious reasons. Simply, the owners, who have asked not to be identified in print, are “caregivers first and a dispensary second,” and want to keep it that way.
“Our dispensary is very much oriented toward discretion and privacy,” derived from its start as an additional service provided by established alternative healthcare providers made available at the request of existing patients.
“We’re doing it to help those sick patients get their medicine,” and not really as another revenue stream, I am told.
To that end, T.H.C will not be coordinating physician visits like the town’s other dispensaries, but will help clients with paperwork, if needed.
T.H.C keeps about six strains of cannabis on hand (sold by the eighth only, $55 for members who designate the dispensary as their primary caregiver), medicated alcohol- and glycerin-based tinctures, edibles like cookies, brownies, banana cake, and can get other items (like chocolates) at customers’ requests.
Its on-staff herbalist is also formulating a pain-relieving salve from cannabis, arnica and aspen bark.
T.H.C. doesn’t sell paraphernalia because, frankly, there are plenty of other places in town where it can be purchased (including Down to Earth at 122 E. Colorado Ave. which stocks a broad range of glass pipes, bubblers and bongs made by Western Slope glass blowers, vaporizers, pouches, carrying cases and more).
“Our view is that [marijuana] is a medicine and we’re trying to maintain that approach.”
Finally, Telluride resident Don LaPorte is looking for space to open a fourth dispensary in town, called New World Alternative Healthcare, where he plans to offer medical marijuana herb and edibles, massage and cannabis-free vitamins and nutritional supplements and provide access to a full-body vibration plate machine purported to help improve bone density, muscle strength and facilitate weight loss.
He describes the vibration plate machine as a “tuning fork for the body.”
He’s not planning to branch out heavily into paraphernalia because, like T.H.C, he figures enough places already sell buy it, nor is he planning to bring in a visiting physician.
N.W.A.H. remains without a definitive opening date, but “We’re still coming soon,” LaPorte says.
• Alpine Wellness is open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. daily; call 970/728-1834 for more information.
• L.S.M.F.T. is open Mon.-Th. 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. and by appointment on weekends; call 970/708-0663 for more information.
• Telluride Herb Company is open by appointment only; call 970/728-8883 for more information.
• New World Alternative Healthcare, call 970/708-4849 for more information.