HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Marijuana Machines Could Be Cure for Inconvenience
Pubdate: Tue, 29 Jan 2008
Source: Los Angeles Daily News (CA)
Copyright: 2008 Los Angeles Newspaper Group
Author: Brandon Lowrey, Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


Vending machines have long been used to hawk everything from Skittles 
and sandwiches to juice and java, but now one is being used to offer 
a new product: medical marijuana.

Not just anyone can pop some coins in and get some bud. The machine, 
developed by Los Angeles medical-marijuana dispensary owner Vincent 
Mehdizadeh, gives up to an ounce of pot per week only to preapproved patients.

The specialized machine installed Monday at Herbal Nutrition Center - 
a medical-marijuana dispensary on La Cienega Boulevard - requires 
fingerprint identification as well as a special prepaid card.

"I wanted to take steps to benefit the industry," said Mehdizadeh, 
who owns two dispensaries. "We have legitimate patients that need us."

Mehdizadeh's machine is far from the standard potato-chip model. The 
black, armored box is bolted to the floor at the entrance to the dispensary.

It has a card swiper, a video camera that also takes a snapshot of 
any user and adds it to a database, and is protected by armed security guards.

Beginning today, Mehdizadeh said, he will start fingerprinting 
patients who want to use the machine, which will dispense five types 
of marijuana: Platinum Kush, Fire O.G., Bubba Kush, Purple Kush and 
Wild Cherry.

Mehdizadeh says the machine offers greater convenience to patients 
seeking the drug to ease everything from chronic pain to sleeping problems.

But even some of the most devoted defenders of medical marijuana 
question the idea of pot vending machines.

"This is bittersweet in that it shows great entrepreneurship - but 
opens up terrific avenues of ridicule," said Allen St. Pierre, 
executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of 
Marijuana Laws.

"Please be prepared for a Jay Leno joke."

Mehdizadeh said the machines also could allow dispensaries to sell 
pot at lower prices because of reduced overhead costs.

And he said it would avert the hazard of robberies that storefronts 
face. The Valley has seen 13 medical-marijuana dispensary robberies 
in the past two years, including two this month.

But others are wary of the impersonal technology, including Dale 
Gieringer, director of the California chapter of NORML, a nonprofit, 
public-interest lobby that opposes marijuana prohibition.

Gieringer said personal interaction is a necessary part of the 
medical-marijuana buying process.

"The odor of cannabis often tells a lot about its qualities and also, 
if you inspect it closely you can sometimes tell whether it has mold 
and things like that," said Gieringer, a co-author of the state's 
Compassionate Use Law.

The law, approved by California voters in 1996, legalized marijuana 
for medicinal purposes and allows dispensaries - and the new vending 
machines - to operate.

Proponents cite marijuana's usefulness in treating patients suffering 
from chronic pain, appetite loss and other symptoms.

California treats possession of an ounce or less of marijuana without 
a prescription as a civil offense punishable by a $100 fine. More 
than an ounce could mean jail time.

But state law has been at odds with federal law, which classifies 
even medicinal marijuana as illegal.

After a series of federal raids on area medical-marijuana facilities, 
the Los Angeles City Council placed a moratorium on new dispensaries 
in July as it mulled ideas for better regulation.

But with so many dispensaries and so many drug laws to enforce, 
federal agents have only been gradually chipping away at California 
marijuana vendors, said Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent 
Jose Martinez.

"It's not like TV where you can pick up the phone and say, 'I want a 
search warrant,"' Martinez said. "The agents have to do a meticulous 
investigation. It's just a matter of time."

While Mehdizadeh's high-tech approach to dispensing medical marijuana 
is novel, Martinez said, he's seen plenty of standard, unsecured 
vending machines stocked with pot inside dispensaries.

But Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access - a national 
organization that promotes safe and legal access to marijuana for 
therapeutic use and research - said the new machine seems more secure.

"That sounds like he's taking good precautionary measures," Hermes 
said. "I think, ultimately, it's going to be up to the city of Los 
Angeles to decide how to regulate these facilities ... probably 
regulate that into the ordinance that they're currently working on."

Mehdizadeh said he has been trying to reach out to City Council 
members and persuade them that the machine is a key way to regulate 
the industry because it includes an automatic database.

Members of the City Council's health committee did not return calls 
for comment Monday.

Los Angeles is not the only place where pot laws and enforcement have 
conflicted in recent years. In 2005, Denver city officials legalized 
marijuana in small amounts for adults 21 and older. But many 
Denverites were cited for marijuana possession because pot is still 
illegal under state and federal laws.

St. Pierre said that whatever happens, Mehdizadeh's machine will 
likely be a milestone in the medical-marijuana movement.

"Of the little benchmarks over a 15-year period, this machine will 
probably be one of them," he said.

"Whether they continue to exist or not." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake