Ahwatukee Foothills entrepreneur Dave Levine wants to take the inconvenience out of medical-marijuana use.
He dislikes the idea of debilitated cancer patients running out of rolling papers or fumbling for a light. And he figures medical-marijuana dispensaries might not want to stock "smoke shop" products like lighters or pipes.
So, he invented the Cannabis Container Vending Machine and a heavy plastic container called the "Cann Can" - short for "cannabis can."
Levine, a University of Arizona economics graduate and former vending-machine company owner, came up with the idea for the invention three months ago as rules for Arizona's fledgling medical-marijuana industry began to solidify.
"I wanted to create something inexpensive that would take care of all of a dispensary's accessory needs," he said.
His machine sells for slightly less than $2,700 and includes several sets of plastic cans. Levine will fill the cans with smoking supplies himself at an extra cost, or dispensaries can buy them empty and customize them. He also envisions customizing cans with dispensaries' logos and other features once his business is up and running.
Dispensary owners that don't want to buy vending machines can sign a contract that allows Levine to put his machine in their stores in exchange for a 15 percent commission.
Levine said he is keeping costs low by refurbishing and customizing "gently used" machines that once sold soft drinks.
Arizona voters approved the use of medical marijuana by patients with medical conditions such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and multiple sclerosis last November. The state Department of Health Services began this month taking applications from patients wanting to use the drug to reduce pain, nausea and conditions like muscle spasms. The state is expected to issue certificates to 125 dispensaries - state approved medical-marijuana stores - later this year.
The light bulb went on for Levine when he started thinking about business models for dispensary owners. He figured many of them would be so focused on growing marijuana plants and processing the plant for medical use that they might not want to be bothered with stocking and selling smoking supplies.
Levine displayed his vending machine and a can prototype can at last week's Green Relief Medical Marijuana Convention and Expo at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The main differences between it and your average soft-drink machine is that the Cannabis Container Vending Machine does not have a compressor - there's no need to keep pipes and papers chilled - and it only takes credit or debit cards. "It does not take cash," Levine said. "That's where most of the problems with vending machines start."
Vending machines that dispense medical marijuana itself already are operating in Los Angeles. The heavy black machines scan finger prints and patients' identification cards before dispensing envelopes with a quarter ounce or less of medical pot.
Levine's view of the competition? Too heavy, too pricy and security intensive.
Plus, Arizona law requires that a "medical marijuana dispensary agent" be there in person to verify the amount of medical marijuana being sold and the identity of the person making the purchase.
"It would be hard for a dispensary to use the machine (for medical-marijuana sales) unless there was an agent present," said Laura Oxley, spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Levine said dispensary owners could stock their vending machines with medical marijuana, but it might be easier to sell it over a counter and use the vending machine for sell accessories.
"What I am working on is changing the way people consume their medicine," he said. "When you order Chinese takeout, they give you a way to immediately consume it and store it. This is a way to avoid the inconvenience of a used-up lighter, or having to go buy different items on an a la carte basis. The container holds everything a patient needs."
Levine acknowledges that 125 dispensaries in Arizona makes for a tiny market. So, he also hopes to do business with dispensaries in other states where medical marijuana is sold.
He said the vending machines and cans can also be used to sell other products. "I had someone inquire about them for high-end chocolates," he said.
by Cathryn Creno - Apr. 23, 2011 07:14 AM
The Arizona Republic
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