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Marijuana Vending Machines Popping Up At California Pot Clubs

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) -- Vending machines are commonly known for dispensing snacks and sodas, but machines dispensing medical marijuana have created a buzz among California dispensaries.

The modern day vending machine came of age in the United States in 1888, selling gum on New York train platforms. Since then, machines have sold everything from food, to tickets, even electronics, but medical marijuana?

"It doesn't take vacations, doesn't take coffee breaks, doesn't go to lunch," said Rick Barrera of Dispenselabs. The machines also don't sample the product.

A couple of Southern California companies have been working on pot vending machines for a while, and are now offering them for sale or lease to marijuana dispensaries. The companies claim the machines offer a high-tech, no pun intended, way of managing inventory as well as a better way to serve experienced patients.

"They're going to want convenience just like they want at Home Depot or Target or the grocery store, where they want to get in and get out because they have their lives to lead," Barrera said. "They don't want to spend their whole day at the dispensary."

Barrera's company makes Autospense, which can hold almost 800 marijuana-related items.

Oaksterdam University in Oakland allowed an Autospense machine to be brought in, so students learning about the cannabis industry could take a look.

Melanie Ryan came from Puerto Rico to Oaksterdam to study how to be a "budtender." Ryan said, "You get the ATM dispensary and you get your budtenders, so that's even better 'cause you don't have to mess with a big line and inventory getting all, you know."

Dale Sky Jones, who runs Oaksterdam University, sees a place for vending. "What the machine does is cut out the process of another human or two having to weigh, measure, touch, count both the medicine and the money," Jones said.

When asked if the machines would pop up in locations such as airports, grocery stores and shopping malls, Jones said, "I've watched enough 'Cops' episodes to see that people will take a truck and tie a chain around it and cart it off if it's outside. But frankly, security is such a concern for most dispensaries I simply don't see them taking that risk."

Barrera concurred, saying "First of all we don't plan on putting them in 7-Eleven's."

To buy marijuana from the vending machine, Barrera said a valid medical marijuana card, registration into the machine's system and a thumbprint are all needed.

"So your kid's not going to able to access (medical marijuana) because he's not going to have the swipe card," Barrera said. "He's not going to have a thumbprint on file. He's not going to have medical marijuana credentials. And most importantly we never leave the machine alone, the machine is always attended."

At $60,000 apiece, Barrera said most dispensaries will keep a close eye on the machine, as well as the product.

Next week, the city council in San Diego will consider whether to allow the machines.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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