GUY RAZ, host: The city of Denver now has more medical marijuana dispensaries than it does Starbucks, over 300 locations to buy pot. That's a lot of options for medical marijuana patients.
So Denver's alternative weekly newspaper Westword has set out to help readers sift through some of those options, and they've hired a professional marijuana critic. He goes by the pen name William Breathes, and he joins us now from the studios of KUVO in Denver. William Breathes, welcome to the program.
WILLIAM BREATHES: Hey. Thanks for having me.
RAZ: First of all, I should say, that is not your real name, right? This is the name that you use in your column because you hide your identity on purpose.
BREATHES: Yeah. You know, when we go into medical marijuana dispensaries in Colorado, we have to show an ID as well as our state-issued medical marijuana card, and on that has my real name. In order to disassociate myself from these reviews, I had to adopt a pen name. And it's worked put pretty well.
RAZ: So you wouldn't want them to know who you were because then they would give you special treatment in exchange for a good review.
BREATHES: Yeah. That or you're not always writing good reviews, so it's also nice to have that sort of shield from that sometimes.
RAZ: Here's the thing, what's going on in Denver? How is it that Denver has more medical marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks?
BREATHES: I think the way a lot of people tell it is in 2009 there was a memo sent by the attorney general of the United States essentially saying that they weren't going to prosecute people who are in line with their state's medical marijuana policies.
In Colorado, we have constitutional amendment to be able to have medical cannabis. And so a lot of people took that as a go-ahead to start up storefronts and businesses, and it just blew up from there. We have more than 100,000 licensed medical marijuana cardholders in the state. You know, a lot of these places saw that there's money to be made there and patients to be helped.
RAZ: Now, not everybody can just walk in and buy pot, right?
BREATHES: No. You need a doctor's recommendation first to get a medical marijuana card. That takes about 35 days to get it. Once you get your card, you can go and shop at any of the dispensaries around town.
RAZ: Are there price wars? I mean, are the dispensaries trying to sort of undercut, you know, other ones?
BREATHES: Yeah. Oh, right now in Denver, there's huge price wars. Ounces are down from $350, $325 an ounce back in 2007, 2008 on the black market to medical marijuana, about $170 for an ounce, I think I saw an ad we ran today in Westword.
RAZ: And how long would that last?
BREATHES: Well, I mean, I tend to go through at least a half gram to a gram a day medically. I mean, that's on the very low end. And there's 28 grams in an ounce. So in Colorado, we're allowed two ounces a month.
RAZ: That's a lot of marijuana.
BREATHES: Mm-hmm. A better way to think about, maybe, would be a joint is anywhere between a half gram to a gram.
RAZ: So how does it work? What do you look for when you are actually reviewing marijuana?
BREATHES: Well, when I'm reviewing marijuana, I'm looking for how clean it's grown, how well it's grown. Another big part of it is that I'm not just reviewing the cannabis, I'm also reviewing the centers themselves.
I look at it from not just my point of view but how would an older patient feel going into this place? How would someone new to cannabis feel in this place? Some shops are going to be geared more towards the cannabis enthusiast with connoisseur-grade strains, a little bit higher prices. Other shops are catering more towards the mass market.
As long as your staff is friendly and they know what they're talking about and your shop is clean and makes me feel all right going in there. I said recently: If it makes me feel icky going in a place, then it would probably make my grandma feel icky going in a place. And there's plenty of grandmas around the Denver community with medical marijuana cards going to these dispensaries.
RAZ: So given that there are more dispensaries in Denver than Starbucks, do you think that they should just start selling coffee?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BREATHES: That's a good one. A lot of them do actually serve out lattes and things like that for their patients.
RAZ: Starbucks should be worried.
BREATHES: Who knows? That may be in their business model down the line.
RAZ: That's William Breathes. That's a pen name for the medical marijuana critic for Westword. That's a weekly alternative newspaper in Denver. He spoke to me from the studies of KUVO in Denver. William, thanks, man.
BREATHES: Thanks a lot for having me.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.