The city that popularized the fast food drive-thru has a new innovation: 24-hour medical marijuana vending machines.
Medical-cannabis dispensary owner Vincent Mehdizadeh poses with his new
Marijuana vending machine installed at the Herbal Nutrition Center in
Patients suffering from chronic pain, loss of appetite and other
ailments that marijuana is said to alleviate can get their pot with a
dose of convenience at the Herbal Nutrition Center, where a large
machine will dole out the drug around the clock.
"Convenient access, lower prices, safety, anonymity," inventor and
owner Vincent Mehdizadeh said, extolling the benefits of the machine.
But federal drug agents say the invention may need unplugging.
"Somebody owns (it), it’s on a property and somebody fills it," said DEA Special Agent Jose Martinez. "Once we find out where it’s at, we’ll look into it and see if they’re violating laws."
At least three dispensaries in the city, including two belonging to
Mehdizadeh, have installed vending machines to distribute the drug to
people who carry cards authorizing marijuana use.
Mehdizadeh said he spent seven months to develop and patent the
black, armored box, which he calls the "PVM," or prescription vending
A sliding fence protects the tinted windows of his dispensary,
barely distinguishing it from a busy thoroughfare of strip malls,
automobile dealers and furniture shops. A box resembling a large
refrigerator stands inside the nearly empty shop, near a few shelves
stocked with vitamins and herbs.
A guard in a black T-shirt emblazoned with the word "Security" on
the front stands at the door. A poster of Bob Marley decorates a back
The computerized machine requires fingerprint identification and a
prepaid card with a magnetic stripe. Once the card and fingerprint are
verified, a bright green envelope with the pot drops down a slot.
Mehdizadeh says any user approved for medical marijuana and
registered in a computer database at his dispensaries can pre-purchase
the drug and then use the machine to pick up.
The process provides convenience and privacy for users who may
otherwise feel uncomfortable about buying marijuana, Mehdizadeh said.
At the Timothy Leary Medical Dispensary in the San Fernando Valley,
the vending machine is accessible only during business hours. An
employee there said the machine was introduced about five months ago,
and provides speedy service.
"It helps a lot of patients who are in a lot of pain and don’t want
to wait around to get help," Robert Schwartz said. "It’s been working
Mehdizadeh said he sought the advice of doctors, and decided to
limit the amount of marijuana per user to an ounce per week. Each
purchase from the machine yields 1/8th or 2/8th of an ounce. By
eliminating a vendor behind the counter, he said, the machine offers
users lower drug prices. The 1/8th ounce packet would cost about $40 —
$20 lower than the average price at other dispensaries.
A spokesman for a marijuana advocacy group said the machine also benefits dispensary owners.
"It limits the number of workers in the store in the event of a
raid, and it’ll make it harder for theft," said Nathan Sands, of The
Marijuana use is illegal under federal law, which does not recognize the medical marijuana laws in California and 11 other states.
The Drug Enforcement Agency and other federal agencies have been actively shutting down major medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the state over the last two years and charging their operators with felony distribution charges.
Mehdizadeh said the Herbal Nutrition Center was the target of a federal
raid in December. He said no arrests were made and no charges have been
filed against him.
a spokesman for advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, said the
machine might benefit those who already know how much and what strain
of marijuana they’re looking for. But he said others will want to see
and smell the drug before they buy it.
A man who said he has been authorized to use medical marijuana
as part of his anger management therapy said the vending machine’s
security measures would at least protect against illicit use of the
"You have kids that want to get high and that’s not what marijuana is for," Robert Miko said. "It’s to medicate."