A more traditional vending machine. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Vending machines for pot? Yes, but there’s a hitch

Imagine a not-so-distant future that includes vending machines dispensing joints and eighths of marijuana.

A marijuana vending machine? Yes, you read that correctly — not that they’ll be next to the Pepsi and snack machines at your office, though.

Los Angeles-based Medbox made big business news last week for its soaring stock prices. Also of note for the $1 billion company is its automated dispensing system, which Medbox founder Vincent Mehdizadeh feels will change medical and recreational marijuana business for the better.

“Anytime you have large jars filled with pot on the counter, it’s a safety risk for theft — and it’s also a contamination risk,” said Mehdizadeh, who noted that the shops using Medbox will still have a few grams of each strain on the counter as samples. “But the product (in our machines) is stored in a light-deprived and temperature-controlled environment, so it stays fresher longer.”

Medbox’s machine works as you’d expect — kind of.

While the customers will choose what product and amount they want, they won’t ever touch the machine, which will reside behind the counter with the shop’s employee. So while the machine will lack that first-person interaction from the customer’s perspective, that’s quite intentional — for now, Mehdizadeh said.

“We as a company support bans on direct-access vending machines,” Mehdizadeh told The Cannabist. “Competitors in our space are trying to do that, and we wanted to separate ourselves immediately because social sentiment isn’t there yet. It might be in five years. But in the meantime it’s better to be safe.”

Will we ever reach a point where consumers will have direct access to marijuana vending machines in Colorado or Washington? They won’t be out in public anytime soon, but if the state’s marijuana laws continue to hold up under federal scrutiny and the drug’s stigma continues to lessen, these kinds of machines could be open to people over 21 in specific, human-monitored areas of dispensaries and recreational pot shops.

Medbox formerly allowed direct-access vending, but the company pulled back a few years ago for public comfort.

“In 2010 we did allow customers to access the machines — in a controlled, secure-access part of the dispensary,” Mehdizadeh said. “Consumers were allowed to patronize the machine because they’d already been verified. But we decided that society wasn’t ready for that yet.

“(The machines) can be modified back to those settings when social sentiment is there, but we see ourselves as part of the solution and not part of the problem.”