Marijuana vending machine debuts in Vancouver, naturally

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew
The medical marijuana vending machine at the B.C. Pain Society in Vancouver (Screengrab from YouTube)

Vancouver is a town that doesn't mind hewing to stereotypes. It doesn't worry if people think it's all beaches, mountains, golfing and skiing. The whole laid-back vibe.

So no one's going to blink when they hear the city has what's being touted as Canada's first marijuana vending machine.

Now, before anyone hightails it west to buy pot the same way you buy a can of Coke, we hasten to point out that this is for medical marijuana. You can't just plug in a few toonies for a baggy and then hit another machine for a couple much-needed bags of Doritos.

The machine is located at the B.C. Pain Society, a licensed dispensary that also previewed a gumball-style unit at last month's 4/20 event in Vancouver. This new machine, similar to those that offer candy bars and chips, spits out half an ounce of what the society calls high-grade medical pot for $50.

The vending machine's debut made international news, with Britain's Independent noting its similarity to one recently introduced in Colorado, which launched its legalized medical marijuana regime last year.

[ Related: Crack pipe vending machines now available in Vancouver ]

Dispensary staffer Chuck Varabioff told the Huffington Post that storing prepackaged pot in the machine instead of glass jars reduces the chances of it drying out. It also cuts down on theft, he told Global News.

It isn't available to just anyone, however; only society members can use the machine.

"Anyone could walk into our dispensary, but we have a 36-inch gate that you can't get by unless you show your ID card," said Varabioff, noting that a card-swipe system may be added to the machine as well.

Vancouver, of course, is the city that gave us Canada's first crack-pipe vending machine, where addicts can pay a quarter for a clean pipe, all in the name of harm reduction.

But the pot-vending machine is part of the normalization of the still-controversial use of medical marijuana.

The federal government undertook an ambitious restructuring of the system that would eliminate licences for home-grown product. Users would have to buy their supply from large commercial growers.

[ Related: Medical marijuana grow-op planned for former B.C. school ]

However, the transition is under court challenge. Supporters of the old system won an injunction in March that allows users to continue growing their own pot while the case proceeds, CBC News reported at the time.

And while the number of licensed medical marijuana users in Canada is relatively small – about 37,000 – the Independent said Health Canada predicted the figure could reach between 300,000 and 400,000 within a decade.

Earlier this week, Toronto's public health department announced the release of an official brand of condoms to promote safe sex.

So maybe it's time for Vancouver to consider marketing its own line of rolling papers.

(Screengrab from YouTube)