Finding Your Own Shambhala 

"Flights" of Kush and potent Dutch Treat C02 hash are hiding in plain sight in the Mission.

Shambhala is supposed to be an ancient Buddhist version of Shangri-La, a place of great beauty and bounty, a sort of heaven on earth (or at least that's what we learned from playing Uncharted 2, the 2010 smash-hit adventure video game for Playstation 3). But Shambhala also is the name of a San Francisco medical marijuana dispensary in the Mission district, one of 24 licensed by the city's Department of Health, and it indeed is a place of peace and tranquility, albeit an endangered one.

Shambhala celebrated its one year-anniversary on January 28, but it's just blocks away from the site of onetime dispensary Medithrive, which US Attorney Melinda Haag shut down on November 11 for being too close to a school. The school had never complained about Medithrive, but Haag closed it and two other clubs anyway. Two more permitted clubs closed January 9 amid ongoing protests in San Francisco, bringing the total number of shuttered dispensaries to five. Last week, San Francisco froze new dispensary permitting indefinitely. So, it didn't surprise us when Shambhala declined media requests.

Nevertheless, on a recent visit, an older, casually dressed gentlemen with a foreign accent ushered patients off of Mission and into the frosted glass-windowed boutique. Registration took just a few minutes in the lobby. After verification, staffers stuck a number on each new patient's recommendation and buzzed them in.

Shambhala indeed. The uncluttered space is clean-smelling and well-lit with pastel green walls and crafted wooden light covers. Billy Idol's "White Wedding" played on the radio. The main counter included selections of sativas, indicas, and hybrids. It sits next to an edibles counter and across from a full selection of glass pipes and vaporizers. Next to it, there's a small couch for hanging out and rolling up.

"Flights" are one of the most unique products at Shambhala. They're similar to wine-tasting "flights" or "flights of beers," and are great for a curated discovery. Four individual gram bags of different flowers are packaged together for $50. For example, the "Magic Carpet" flight contains a Purple Kush, Master Kush, Blueberry Diesel, and Blueberry Wreck. Other flights include the "Drone."

Less cool: our budtender's ignorance of their own Dutch Treat CO2 hash. Dutch Treat is a cross of Jack Herer and Skunk #1 — both powerful Netherlands-bred sativas. Hashmakers use a blast of liquid carbon dioxide to strip and filter the cannabinoids and essential oils from the flowers. When the CO2 evaporates, the residual cannabinoid "wax" is super-potent. It's a powerful, trendy delicacy for advanced cannabis users, medicinal and otherwise, and it deserves genius-level salespeople.

Shambhala gives away a free pre-roll for new patients and a free pre-roll for referrals. Grams go for as low as $15, and eighths as low as $40, although much of the club's top-shelf selections push $60 per eighth, which is quite steep these days. The menu is at ShambhalaSF.com.

Like many places, we discovered that Shambhala has off-menu items too, so if you don't see what you want, don't hesitate to ask. Responsible operators accommodate collective members, and who knows, you might uncover some secret item. If you don't go looking for your own version of Shambhala, there's zero chance you'll find it.

Seeds and Stems

High Times' cannabis cups seemingly never end these days, because they actually don't; they just move place to place. After taking Detroit, the 24-year-old Amsterdam tradition descends on Los Angeles for the first time in history on February 11 and 12. The second-largest city in America has a thriving, sometimes unruly dispensary scene that officials are again seeking to ban. As usual, High Times will host a judged cannabis competition, plus an expo and a series of lectures. Wiz Khalifa will also he on hand to accept an award. It's also Grammy weekend in LA, so expect lots of surprise appearances. George Clinton showed up at the Detroit cup. General admission tickets are $50. Anybody can visit, but only qualified patients may enter the outdoor Prop 215 area. Doctors will be on hand to qualify patients.

Comic Drew Carey, who is also host of The Price Is Right, sounded like he wanted to get in on LA's action on Saturday, January 28, during a performance as part of SF Sketchfest. During the live recording of the Pop My Culture podcast with hosts Cole Stratton and Vanessa Ragland, Ragland asked Carey what business he would open if he had to do so with the $1.5 million in pooled winnings that Carey, Norm Macdonald, and Rosie O'Donnell won for charity on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Without missing a beat, Carey had a plan: "I'd open a medical marijuana clinic that only served lesbians. I'd be the money man and Norm Macdonald would be the door man."

Because of Occupy Oakland and a huge budget deficit from the elimination of redevelopment, the City of Oakland has slowed down the approval process for four new dispensaries. Final recommendations for permittees were supposed to be done by January 24, but assistant to the city administrator Arturo Sanchez wrote on January 30 that "recommendations have not even been finalized to present to the city administrator. With everything else going on (Budget, OO) then it may not even be till next week that they are completed and then presented."

Lastly, marijuana prohibition repeal advocate NORML has made its free, one-hour weekly podcasts available via iTunes. Users of iOS devices can simply open iTunes, click on "Podcasts," search for NORML, and download episodes.

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