Canada’s First Medical Marijuana Vending Machine Opened in B.C.
Canadian Awareness Network
May 10, 2014
VANCOUVER — Just five weeks after Ottawa outlawed B.C.’s cottage industry of cannabis dispensaries, one of them has just opened Canada’s first marijuana vending machine.
“Half an ounce for $50, which is unthinkable in the city,” said local hip hop artist Ray Gill, speaking Monday in a YouTube video promoting the new machine. “It’s like they’re just giving it away!”
The machine is operated by the B.C. Pain Society, a recently opened medical marijuana dispensary located a few blocks from the heart of Vancouver’s hip Commercial Drive district.
Society director Chuck Varabioff worked in vending machines before he went into medical marijuana, so the machine was a natural marriage, he said.
“It’s safe, it’s secure and your product does not get contaminated,” said Mr. Varabioff.
“Most other dispensaries in town, you don’t know what that product is getting contaminated with — which is a big issue for sick people.”
Mr. Varabioff’s creation, decorated in a pot leaf motif, contains a cross-section of popular pot strains, from Cotton Candy to Lemon Haze to MK Ultra.
For $20 the customer gets a “sealed, tamper-proof” bag containing an eighth of an ounce (enough for about half a dozen joints). And, as indicated in the video by Mr. Gill, half-ounce bags go for $50.
Two re-purposed gumball machines also offer smaller quantities of marijuana at $4 and $6 increments.
The machines, like the various marijuana products offered at the Society’s nearby retail counter, are only open to licensed medical marijuana users.
A waist-high fence separates the machines from the location’s public area, and to enter the fenced-off zone customers must flash a card confirming that they have received a doctor’s prescription for the drug.
Within the space of 20 minutes on a Wednesday afternoon, three customers came in to use the new machine: A woman who appeared to be in her early twenties, a woman with a slight limp and an older man in a dress shirt.
“It’s a convenience thing for regular customers to come in and say ‘I know what I want, I can avoid the lineup, come right up to the machine, put my $20 in, grab my baggie and go; bada bing, bada boom, done,’” said Justin Johnson, a licensed medical marijuana user who uses the drug to treat lower back pain.
Another perk: the B.C. Pain Society does not keep tabs on how much product its customers are buying.
“We’re not interested in what they’re buying; that’s up to them,” said a clerk. “Whereas Health Canada growers, they keep track.”
The B.C. Pain Society does not disclose the exact source of its marijuana, other than to say that it comes from the Vancouver area, is inspected in-house and does not come from drug traffickers.
“All of our product is sourced from confidential sources,” said Mr. Varabioff. “That’s pretty much all I can say about that.”
According to Health Canada, the B.C. Pain Society’s whole setup is illegal. As per legislation that came into force on April 1, Canada’s only source for legal medical marijuana is a small network of large-scale, for-profit growers certified by the health agency.
But the B.C. Pain Society, like all of the other dispensaries in the Vancouver area, keeps its doors open thanks to what many proprietors openly call a “legal gray area.”
The Vancouver Police’s official stance is that while medical marijuana dispensaries are indeed illegal, raiding them is far from its top priority.
In a March press release, the Vancouver Police Drug Unit said it would continue to focus on targeting “violent gang members” and other operations that pose a “danger to the public.”
“For the most part, medical marijuana dispensaries operating today in Vancouver do not meet these criteria,” it said, noting that they were just as illegal before the rule change.
The B.C. Pain Society vending machine is only the latest unorthodox vending machine to show up in Vancouver.
Last October, a Waves coffee shop became the site of the world’s first bitcoin ATM. A few months later, it emerged that a crack pipe vending machine had been operating at a harm reduction facility run by the Portland Hotel Society, a Downtown Eastside non-profit since roiled by spending scandals.
And while the B.C. Pain Society’s marijuana vending machine is a Canadian first, it narrowly lost the global title to Colorado, a state that legalized recreational marijuana in 2012.