Why Marijuana Vending Machines Won't Trump Dispensaries (Yet) - Street Week

By Chloe Kent

Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Beall.

Arizona-based medical marijuana dispensary company American Green hopes to change the medical marijuana industry with ZaZZZ, a marijuana vending machine.

Proponents believe the machines “represent a future that revolves around convenience, control and automation.” Those on the fence point out the machines “lack that first-person interaction from the customer’s perspective.”

In either event, the ZaZZZ made its debut last month at Herbal Elements, a Colorado dispensary and customers can now purchase their medical marijuana in a manner similar to the way one can now buy soda or cigarettes, only better. The machines are also temperature-controlled so products stay fresher for longer and can be customized by product and even exterior logo.

Greg Honan, whose shop, Herbal Elements, will debut the machine believes that “the ZaZZZ will help shop employees serve customers more efficiently, even as it frees up floor space, provides storage for stock, and prevents crime.” Given the nature of the machine, crime seems unlikely, as each weighs over a thousand pounds and often utilizes fingerprint security.

Despite its seeming advantages, an obvious drawback of the machines is the lack of person-to-person attention in product selection, however, the medical marijuana crowd is often a discerning market who knows exactly what they’re after. Cutting out the middleman also eliminates the possibility of human error or clerk theft by tracking exact quantities and monitoring that each customer only receives their exact allotment.

While the machine presents an intriguing alternative to existing methods, the ZaZZZ is hardly the first of its kind.

In 2011, MedBox Inc., the decided heavyweight in the marijuana vending machine arena, debuted its first machine. Bruce Bedrick, CEO of Medbox, told Business Week that the company was “planning to literally dominate the industry” and assuage the longstanding concern that the marijuana business entails “druggies standing on street corners and grabbing little kids and stuffing drugs down their throats,” but rather, “If you’re going to allow people to have marijuana, then let’s organize it, regulate it, tax it. It has to work for everybody.”

The third of the three major players, Endexx Corp., a publicly-traded company with a medical marijuana division called M3Hub, re-imagines the entire process of purchasing medical marijuana, beginning with the creation of an iPhone app and the introduction of in-store touch screen vending machines to complete the order.

CEO Todd Davis told Orange County Register that Endexx launched the machines to create “a ‘hub’ of medical-marijuana companies that can streamline the industry from ‘seed to sale.'”

Perhaps Stephen Shearin, CEO of Tranzbyte, which owns ZaZZZ’s American Green, put it best: “With the machine you have no sick days, no overtime, no 401(k), and it frees a dispensary person up to consult with someone,” Shearin told The LA Times. “I’m making about 17 a week and I’m already behind.”

Shearin plans on installing two new machines in California in as many months.

Could pot vending machines soon be found beside your neighborhood Pepsi machine or lining the lobbies of your office building?

Not exactly.

While the ZaZZZ is a stand alone machine that does indeed resemble something from which one might purchase a Twix bar, marijuana vending machines are meant to stay inside of existing dispensaries, after venders have first had their identification and medical cards verified by store clerks. The ZaZZZ then re-checks both documents before dispensing any product.

Sounds a little more like using an ATM at a bank if you ask us.