A new cannabis vending machine has hit the market in Colorado, with other states on the horizon, but the automated dispensers must overcome a host of challenges to become a regular part of the marijuana retail landscape.
In theory, in-dispensary vending machines can improve customer throughput and reduce wait times.
Beyond stores, vending machines could also serve as points of sale in remote areas such as rural communities that can’t support a full dispensary.
Key challenges for marijuana vending machines include:
- Regulations that favor human oversight of cannabis transactions.
- Technical challenges that include integration with point-of-sale systems.
- Limited product capacity, potentially reducing selection.
- Costs that might make cheaper throughput-boosting solutions more attractive.
In-dispensary vending machines remain uncommon in North America’s legal cannabis markets, said Maxime Kot, president and director of licensing at Arizona-based consultancy The Cannabis Business Advisors.
“I think it will be years before we see cannabis vending machines take off in the U.S.,” she said.
Some vending-machine companies were reluctant to disclose the pricing for their products, although one business quoted a price tag of $16,000.
Challenges for vending machines
Elliot Maras, editor of Vending Times, has seen multiple cannabis vending machines launched in recent years – but with no clear winners.
“I would not say that the average machine manufacturer has gone out of their way to try to pitch these,” he said.
Maras said modern technology can verify IDs and accept cash, but those functions make the machines more complex and expensive.
Regulatory compliance is another challenge. In Canada, federal law presents a major obstacle.
Corey Yantha, president, founder and CEO of Halifax, Nova Scotia-based Dispension Industries, pitches his company’s unattended Verified Identity Dispenser as a “low-cost way to service legal cannabis in all corners of the country,” including rural areas where a brick-and-mortar store doesn’t make sense.
But Canada’s Cannabis Act generally prohibits selling marijuana through a “self-service display” or a “dispensing device,” meaning Dispension’s machine can’t be used to sell cannabis in that country for now.
Yantha is confident, however, that the law will be adjusted to permit automated sales.
In the meantime Dispension’s machine is being used to distribute scheduled opioids, and Yantha said the company is working to deploy the kiosk with an undisclosed U.S. recreational marijuana player.
“We’ve been demonstrating success with a more high-risk substance and with a more vulnerable population that demonstrates this technology is secure enough to distribute cannabis,” he said.
Yantha did not disclose the dispenser’s price but said it’s available on a turnkey-lease basis.
New in-dispensary vending solutions
One new in-dispensary vending machine challenger is betting on banks of devices under human oversight.
Even though vending machines can be designed to verify age and identity, Matt Frost, CEO of Boston-based cannabis vending machine maker Anna, said the market isn’t necessarily calling for that capability.
“A lot of states – every state, really – wants there to be someone that’s accountable for those transactions,” he said.
After entering a dispensary and having their IDs checked, customers place their orders at an Anna machine. (Anna can be configured to scan IDs again if necessary.)
The machine alerts a supervising budtender to approve the order before the customer pays, and the machine dispenses product.
Frost declined to reveal Anna’s price tag but said the company’s revenue model is “based largely on sales volume.” He said a typical configuration might hold 600-700 products or more small products such as joints.