The Cost of Convenience: The Infiltration of Medical Marijuana Vending Machines

This is the first installment of a new weekly editorial column, written by JackDanieL.  Each week, Jack will take on a new topic in a style that is all his own.  Aside from writing for NUGGETRY News, JackDanieL is also a contributor to NUGGETRY Magazine, NUGGETRY Reviews, and most recently Toke of the Town.  Be sure to check back for more from Jack each Friday. Enjoy!

Growing up in a little hick town here in SoCal, my first “best friend” was a kid named Jon. I spent a ton of time at his house, he came on family vacations with us – we were buds.  Jon’s folks owned Valley Video, the only video rental store in town at the time. No DVDs, no PS3s. Just VHS and NES.  Jon’s family wasn’t rich. Far from it, in fact, but they lived a modest lifestyle in the town that they grew up in, financed by their own small business.

That all changed when Blockbuster Video showed up in the early 90’s. Bright lights, wide aisles, and a massive inventory where everything smelled like buttered popcorn.  Roll credits on Sun Valley Video, they were forced to close almost immediately. Jon and his family moved away, off to Texas or some shit. But hey, that’s the price you pay for convenience.  A few jobs lost, a family in disarray.

Blockbuster Video went on to thrive in our town for close to two decades. In fact, a few of my friends worked there over the years, and I knew the last store manager pretty well. Our kids play sports against each other. Now he, and eight other employees are unemployed in a brutal job market, and Blockbuster Video is a Goodwill Thrift Store. Talk about a sign of the times.

But honestly, in our onDemand-age, when is the last time that you walked into a brick and mortar video store and paid several dollars to rent a movie? In my still-small town, we now have zero video rental stores and four RedBox movie rental kiosk locations. Two of them are side by side at a gas station! If you are not familiar with RedBox, it is basically a huge vending machine, but instead of stale Funyuns and Snickers, it spits out just-as-stale DVD movies and console video games. A digital screen allows you to navigate a “menu” of available titles, access info about each one (really bro? reading the info about Thor? HE HAS A HAMMER, MOVE ALONG! My BonBons are melting!), and ultimately check-out as many as you want for about a dollar or two each a night. You swipe your debit or credit card and bingo, you are on your way!

How convenient! You didn’t even have to deal with some annoying teenage employees trying to save a few dollars for college. Awesome! You didn’t have to help that guy I know from teeball to put a few scraps of food on his family’s table, right on! Can you sense my sarcasm yet? Woohoo!

Ok, ok get to the weed jokes, I get it. So down here in San Diego, the medical marijuana scene has been brutally subjected to a very heavy-handed crackdown by the DEA on all brick and mortar dispensaries. I’m working on a more in-depth story about the ever-evolving state of affairs down here in San Diego, but to make a long story short, with a new Mayor elected and a City Council sitting on the fence waiting to get pushed one way or the other, odds are that some sort of ordinance will get passed in the next month or so, setting the guidelines for medical marijuana dispensaries to re-open.

Probably the biggest clue that change is coming is the wave of moneyed interests that are now flooding into San Diego, hoping to find a ripe and uncultured weed community to milk from. Sorry fellas, not here.

One that’s caught my scornful eye lately, perhaps unfairly due to the bias I laid out at the beginning of this piece, is a group called MedBox. Their clever marketing name only serves to remind me of RedBox, which reminds me of Blockbuster, which reminds me of my best friend moving to Texas…damn you MedBox! I kid, sort of.

Overnight I started hearing the name, from all angles of the 420 community down here in San Diego. From delivery drivers, to nightly news reporters, everyone was suddenly talking about MedBox. Don’t get me wrong, I often heard of them holding free educational seminars, matching ASA (Americans for Safe Access) donations, and even giving directly to funds aimed at helping individuals facing cannabis-related court battles. But the cynic in me could not help but wonder, what’s in it for them?

That question was answered when I was handed one of their marketing flyers, and given the pitch normally saved for dudes with wallets much fatter than mine. It turns out, if you call now, because spaces are limited, for the low low price of just $150,000 MedBox is saying they will build you out a location to house your shiny new weed machine. They claim to have 30 sites locked down in San Diego, and your buck-fifty gets you the machine and a secure building for it to sit in.

Why provide a building around an unmanned vending machine? I’m sure that they make a few dollars in the build-out, and I’m guessing they feel it adds to the “safe & secure” portion of their sales pitch.  Other listed “benefits” of using this machine as opposed to a traditional storefront dispensary include; safe early-morning to late-night access for customers, a sterile environment for the (pre-packaged) meds to wait in, limits on amounts dispensed to any one customer, computerized accounting and inventory control, guaranteed compliance with state and local laws, and (here’s the kicker) lower overhead for the operator.

How convenient.

Who needs three or four extra employees in every dispensary? Putting their dirty fingers on stuff and wanting lunch breaks and definitely stealing stuff every chance they get, breaking laws for the hell of it, and worst of all, wanting to get paid every Friday?  Why deal with that when one or two rich dudes can just make ALL the money almost automatically? Oops, there I go again.

I think that one of the hardest things to explain to somebody who is not at all involved in this marijuana culture is how organic of a community it really is. A guy can blow glass in the morning and sell it that night to buy seeds to plant to grow weed to sell to buy art from the girl he sold the glass to. I call it the Green Economy. Even while being constantly pushed to the fringes of society, we have created this self-sustaining farm of ideas and art and craftsmanship and dedication which relies on, and is fueled by, our cooperation and passion to just “keep it real”.

There is nothing “convenient” about growing weed or making hash or blowing glass. It takes work and trust and real relationships. So while I can justify a few of the “benefits” of this vending machine business model, I have a few of my own personal problems with it too. Just like RedBox makes every movie look equally good, MedBox cannot help a patient decide which specific strain is best for their specific needs. A good budtender can be a godsend for a patient who may be new to MMJ, or just not as well-versed in it as others are. Budtenders and their managers receive crucial real-time feedback from the patients, letting them know, empirically, what actually works.

Out of OG every single time? The wrong strain comes out? Your card won’t swipe? The touchscreen is covered in boogers? How bad do you want it? Ok, I admit, that’s a bit much.

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner

Currently, it appears that even with tens of thousands of dollars being tossed around coincidentally right before a long overdue ordinance hearing, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner is addressing the issue of these vending machines directly in his proposal to the City Council. His ordinance proposal goes to the extreme, strictly prohibiting the siting or placement of any MMJ vending machines in San Diego. I wonder if anybody already threw down six figures with MedBox… and if they kept their receipt?

As much as I obviously don’t like the thought of one vending machine replacing several real jobs that pay real money that make this whole silly world go ‘round, I do think that there is room for them in this industry. If used to supplement business for existing brick and mortar storefront dispensaries, allowing them to offer safe access to their members during what would otherwise be “off-hours”, I say more power to ‘em! But if they just become some exclusive country club cash shelter for dudes who don’t have the guts to quite literally stand on the front lines, if they cost us much needed jobs or even one iota of our culture, let’s just pull the plug.

13 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. 3

    MACVISHION said on Mar 29, 2013

    Good work as always @JackDaniel

  2. 1

    LloydChristmas said on Mar 29, 2013

    I like reading your articles. It's nice reading something that interests me as we'll as keeps me reading. Keep up the good work JackDaniel!

  3. 1

    Felessen said on Mar 29, 2013

    Nice assessment, I agree that way seems to be the ideal, too bad its not an ideal world in which we live.
    We can still hope though.

  4. 1

    Kushsurfin said on Mar 29, 2013

    good read

  5. 2

    JackDanieL said on Mar 29, 2013

    UPDATE:

    Mayor Bob Filners office BACKPEDALED just one day after proposing that NO MMJ vending machines should be placed in San Diego, issuing a "clarification" EXEMPTING MedBox from the language in his proposal. Someone with money/power got in his ear almost literally overnight. That is sickening.

    Also, further research and an interview with MedBox showed that they DO NOT allow for "after-hours" access. In fact, they REQUIRE that an employee be between the machine and any patients.

    There is more dirt on MedBox than my little shovel can uncover.

    Thanks to everyone who took 5 minutes to read this and THANKS to Nuggetry for giving me another outlet for my wacky thoughts ;)

  6. 1

    Oilhead420 said on Mar 29, 2013

    Great article, keep it up. Props

  7. 1

    HumCoast said on Mar 29, 2013

    I related to this cuz I've moved away from best friends several times, good read, long live the organic world, don't give into a robotic lifestyle! Nice work JackDaniel

  8. 0

    dabsat710 said on Mar 30, 2013

    really awesome article jack, thanks buddy

  9. 1

    MDBX_Fan said on Mar 30, 2013

    The writer didn't do his due diligence. The machines are not pateint accessed but they keep the product fresh and sanitary. The $150,000 is for a specific territory and covers the everything a dispensary would need to operate, including security systems, furniture, equipment, and legal consulting. I've also seen the company's contracts and they offer a refund for all or a portion of the start-up fees if the dispensary is ever forced to close. Also, the Mayor's office in SD did not backpeddle, they simply confirmed that they are against "Vending Machines", which Medbox is not. This is who Medbox is: "I often heard of them holding free educational seminars, matching ASA (Americans for Safe Access) donations, and even giving directly to funds aimed at helping individuals facing cannabis-related court battles"

  10. 2

    JackDanieL said on Mar 31, 2013

    I rec'd very detailed rebuttals from proponents of Medbox today in response to this article. I'm not done covering this story. I plan to speak with actual operators and more with medbox themselves, to make sure that all sides of this debate are represented. Stay tuned, friends!

  11. 1

    DFWdabz said on Apr 1, 2013

    Good job Jack D, I like how you actually give a damn about the other sides view points, and actually take them into consideration as stated in your last comment. I would like to see MedBox's responses.

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