The Dispensary Store in Santa Ana, CA just became the first medical marijuana dispensary in the country (at least publicized) to give patients the option of purchasing cannabis out of a vending machine: the “Autospense.” The aptly named collective implanted the dispensary device, which is created and sold by Dispense Labs, an Alison Viejo-based company looking to transform the medical marijuana industry.

The Autospense is by no means a compltely novel idea; earlier this year, a group of activists in New Zealand was serving customers weed from a now confiscated vending machine. But it’s certainly the first of its kind installed in an American medical marijuana dispensary. While the Autospense certainly comes with many caveats (more on those shortly), it will be interesting to see if they have any virility to them.

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Cause according to company CEO Joe DeRobbio, the Autospense will be a hit because of the increased security it offers dispensary owners.

The self-contained systems could be located anywhere, DeRobbio said, and the company will likely lease them to qualified dispensaries for $1,500-$2,000 a month. To use, patients must swipe a registration card, then enter a PIN number. Payment may be made with cash, credit or debit, then a door opens to release the product.

For after-hours purchases, the Autospense must be surrounded by a vending cage that is only accessibly by swiping the registration card. Fingerprint recognition offers one more step of security.

Locks, cameras and sensors make the machine difficult to tamper with, DeRobbio said.

“What goes in, what comes out, it’s documented and there’s no way to subvert that,” he said.

So far, one machine is operating at The Dispensary Store in Santa Ana. Patients who are registered with the dispensary may use their membership cards to access the encaged machine 24 hours a day. Features like more security cameras and purchase tracking appealed to Managing Director Lera Nastri.

The Autospense’s features are the result of DeRobbio’s efforts to mitigate problems. The transparency and controlled inventory will help allay local government fears of feeding a black market or contributing to crime, he said. Overall, the system will be safer, he added. [OC Register]

There are inherent flaws with the Autospense, the first being fairly obvious: people don’t want to buy what they can’t see or smell. Unlike alcohol, no batch of a type of marijuana is identical to the other. Part of the reason entering a dispensary is such an interesting (and sometimes fun) activity is that you actually get to inspect your medicine. A dealer isn’t showing up at your car window with a bunch of dime bags asking how many you want. Not only do you have a ton of options–but you get to carefully dissect them all.

The Autospense has pictures on its casino-like interface, but if the images are stock photos (which they appear to be and undoubtedly are), than they are completely meaningless to customers. No seasoned smoker will ever blindly by a strain of cannabis in a state that offers a plethora of tangible, visible options. Even if the bud isn’t dry, wary, presumptuous (and astute) customers will also shy away for this very real concern.

The second flaw of the Autospense is what Mr. DeRobbio claims is its biggest strength: safety. Installing one of these “dispensing systems” in your collective not only adds visibility and clientele (in The Dispensary Store’s case, they made the news and were even shut down for a day), but it also adds another safe to your shop. And more money (especially money in a movable machine) gives more of an incentive for thieves to target your dispensary.

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The bells and whistles of security offered by the Autospense, in theory, sound spectacular. But is a camera really going to prevent a gang or a crew from breaking into a dispensary at the middle of the night, taking an axe to the machine, and not only stealing your money, but destroying your lofty investment? Most definitely not.

Who dould you rather buy your bud from: a well-endowed, smiling female who at least feigns interest in you or an inanimate machine?