Colorado Springs is higher than you think.
Take it from Robert Melamede, better known as "Dr. Bob," a University of Colorado at Colorado Springs professor. Back in 2002, Melamede blessed the Pikes Peak area with its first college course on medical marijuana. He was a natural, since he'd already hosted a call-in TV show on cannabis, and he ran for public office several times in Vermont on the "legalize it" ticket.
Anyway, Melamede says that despite appearances, the "Evangelical Vatican" can toke with the best of 'em — at least when it comes to herb as medicine (versus herb as pairing for Oreos and Monty Python flicks).
"We have, I think, something like 13 [medical marijuana] dispensaries in Colorado Springs — in one of the most conservative cities in the country," Melamede says, laughing. "And we have certainly the biggest dispensary in Colorado, and the best."
That's right. We're No. 1.
Cannabis Therapeutics, tucked discreetly into a nondescript west-central strip mall, is surprisingly cozy once you get past the bars on the windows and other high-level security. Sage walls, magazines stacked neatly on a pine and glass coffee table, leather couches.
A year ago, clean-cut 44-year-old owner Michael Lee says, Cannabis Therapeutics was one of just two dispensaries in town. But the growing competition isn't a worry: "My business has not slowed since the day of conception."
Back when Lee opened he had seven patients. That grew to about 150 in his first year. Now he has close to 1,700.
Of course, law enforcement was curious when he first set up shop in 2004. Lee had a sit-down with the local narcotics and intelligence division of the Colorado Springs Police Department to explain his operation. He's still in close contact with one local cop, and says they have a good relationship. On a federal level, both the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Environmental Protection Agency have paid Lee a visit, but Lee says he was able to alleviate their concerns. They leave him alone now, he says. He even has a letter from the EPA showing no problems with his facility.
According to a few of the patients hanging around the clinic on a Monday, what can be found at Lee's dispensary is sweet relief. Volunteer and patient Frederick Ross, 50, credits the clinic with saving his life. He says damage from neurotoxins he was exposed to in the military were killing his appetite. When he first came to the clinic he weighed just 87 pounds. Now he's up to 103 — still frail, but strong enough to convince doctors he'll live.
"It's so nice to know that we finally have a place where people who really need the help can get [it]," he says.
Kristi Hernandez, 40, says she's been able to eliminate the medicine cabinet of drugs she was taking daily to handle multiple injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome and diabetes. In fact, she's completely off insulin.
"Life has totally changed," she says. "My [14-year-old] son likes me better."
Napoleon Hudson, 46, says he endured seven heart surgeries and was too debilitated to exercise. Since starting marijuana treatment he's been more active and has lost 45 pounds in a matter of months.
Unlike some dispensaries, Cannabis Therapeutics is more than just a place to buy weed. There are classes, bingo nights and homemade products that offer new ways to take your medicine — from smoke-free vaporizers to gums, drinks, treats, and even soaps and bubble baths. (The cannabis can be absorbed through the skin.)
"I deal with 80- or 90-year-old ladies who have never smoked before, and they think it's evil," Lee says with a laugh, adding that many of them feel more comfortable eating some "medicinal" banana bread. "Different people have different needs."
By the way, some local scientists say the research that gave us ganja body bath may soon produce even more valuable products. Turns out pot may be a wonder drug, capable of treating everything from cancer to autoimmune disorders, they say, and even slowing the aging process.
Imagine, that bong in your closet could be the fountain of youth.