Are Cannabis Vending Machines the Wave of the Future?

Growing up in a small town, one of the local treasures as a kid was Sun Valley Video. It was owned by my best friend’s mother and there you could rent what appeared to 9-year-old-me as an endless variety of VHS movies and NES games (yeah, I’m old).  

Since I had the hookup, she’d usually tell me to go grab a 2nd game and keep them both for an extra day when checking out with my folks. It was the textbook example of a mom n’ pop shop, rooted and raised up from the community it served.

Then, one day, Blockbuster Video appeared in a newly built shopping center and not only did my best friend’s family store close, but they actually moved away – thanks, corporate America!

Life went on and I actually had a handful of friends go to work in that Blockbuster. Yes, it had a better variety. Yes, the prices were a little cheaper. And, yes, they did employ around 10 people in a town where jobs were not that easy to find.

The Blockbuster/Hollywood Video business model reigned for well over a decade after that, making the smooth transition from VHS to DVD, from NES to PS3, and so on.

But then a service called Netflix became available. Now, some of you whippersnappers might not believe this, but you used to have to order Netflix movies and get them in your mailbox. You’d watch them and send them back the same way.

We laugh now, but that was the next order of convenience – you didn’t even have to leave your property! Of course, it consolidated profits to one corporation, instead of X number of franchisees.

This alone didn’t kill the neighborhood video store, it needed a little help for that.

Enter RedBox.

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Yes, you had to leave your house for RedBox movies, but at least you didn’t have to talk to anyone else while you did it.

In our town, that was all it took, Blockbuster died and is now, ironically, a thrift store.

That is the cost of convenience.
We lost a family business to a larger entity for it.
We lost those extra jobs to a consolidation for it.
Now we have a RedBox machine full of direct-to-DVD movies, but even its days are numbered as streaming video only gets easier and cheaper for the masses.

Was that transition inevitable?

Well, we are about to find out in the world of cannabis as consumers continue to demand lower prices and more convenience. . . but at what cost?

Back in 2013, I wrote an article about a company called MedBox who were touting themselves as the first vending machine for medical marijuana.

As I reported back then, there were a lot of problems with MedBox, and they eventually went up in smoke, but one of my major gripes then was how casually they promoted the fact that their machine could replace human employees to benefit a company’s bottom line.

They painted cannabis industry workers as sticky-fingered thieves who couldn’t be trusted to interact with inventory or customers. The machines need no lunch breaks, holidays, or sick time. These were the selling points then, and they have resurfaced today.

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A new company named greenbox Robotix, that fortunately appears to be light years more legit than MedBox, is gaining popularity in the legal weed landscape with their state-of-the-art touchscreen cannabis kiosk.

Only located inside licensed cannabis dispensaries in legal states (for now), these machines aim to expedite the experience for the consumer, and maximize profit for the retailer – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Let’s face it; we’ve all probably had a less-than-impressive experience with a budtender or dispensary employee at one time or another. Traditionally, too many of them have been uninformed and/or unwilling to educate the consumer BUT a good budtender is worth their weight in gold, both to their boss and to the customers they help.

So, much like at the airport or the grocery store (or a Redbox), greenbox offers savvy consumers the option to skip the line, skip the 1-on-1 experience, and just take care of business with a few taps of the touchscreen.

The average greenbox transaction is said to take just three minutes.

At this point, it all seems very benign. But if dispensary owners see real benefit to these machines, the shift toward automation that we’ve seen in other industries could start swallowing up cannabis industry jobs in the name of profit.

An article last year in Green Market Report hits the nail on the head in the opening sentence, “Dispensary owners are looking for ways to reduce their labor costs and customers have no patience for waiting lines at their local dispensary. So, robotic vending machines seem to be a good solution for both.” (emphasis ours)

Incredibly, the California cannabis industry sold less legal weed in 2018 under full-scale legalization than they did in 2017 when it was still a patchwork of laws and loopholes.

The driving reason for this is cost.

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Once everyone from the growers, to the processors, to the distributors, to the labs, to the taxmen, to the state itself get their slice, recreational cannabis consumers in Cali are staring down the barrel of $70+ eighths of legal bud, and so, the black market continues to thrive.

At all of those stages listed above, technology and automation are providing the answers and efficiency to keep them profitable in today’s movement, so why wouldn’t we think that retail would follow suit?

In our AmazonPrime/Netflix&Chill bubbles, we are becoming more and more detached from any need for human interaction, and for me it is highlighted ever so clearly in the cannabis culture which is rooted in personal human interaction and has never known the comfort (or cost) of convenience.

These weed vending machines do not appeal to me, personally, but I do see how they will be of value to lots of retailers and consumers alike. . . if not the forgotten budtender in the middle.

As Shark Tank star and biz mogul Mark Cuban puts it, “We are going through a process where software will automate software, automation will automate automation.” *takes big rip of kush* “Automation,” he warns, “will lead to unemployment and we need to prepare for that.”

The cost of convenience will be high, my friends.

What’s your take?
Are you cool buying bud from a vending machine, or do you prefer some human interaction?
Let us know in the comments below.