BUSINESS

Pot Vending Machines Coming To Canada, Medbox Promises

10/17/2013 01:14 EDT | Updated 10/17/2013 01:15 EDT

A California company that’s cashing in on the burgeoning medical marijuana business in the U.S. is planning to bring its pot vending machines to Canada.

But Health Canada regulations mean it may be some time before medical pot patients can use them directly.

West Hollywood-based Medbox announced this week it has partnered with one of the labs licenced by Health Canada to produce marijuana under the new free market that started operating earlier this month. The company won’t identify the lab in question until the deal is finalized next month.

Medbox’s machines, and those of its competitors, are already in operation in some marijuana dispensaries in California, though in other states they are mostly found in hospitals, pharmacies and doctor's offices.

Medbox’s machines use pre-paid member cards and a fingerprint sample to identify customers, and keep permanent records of all transactions. The company stresses the efficacy of the machines’ security features.

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The Medbox patented system is the premier means of providing secure storage and dispensing,” CEO Bruce Bedrick said in a statement, adding that Canada “presents a significant growth opportunity for our company.”

But because of Health Canada regulations, patients in Canada won’t have direct access to the vending machines, the National Post reports. Only employees at licensed marijuana producers will be able to use the machines, and will then have to ship the product to customers.

Bedrick told the Post he expects that rule to change.

Medbox's CEO says Canada has leapfrogged the U.S. in terms of developing a medical marijuana industry, because unlike in the U.S., the Canadian program is “100 per cent condoned on a federal level.”

He says Canada has placed itself at the forefront of a “medical marijuana race we are now seeing worldwide.”

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Canada currently has 37,400 people with prescriptions for marijuana, but Health Canada estimates that number could jump more than tenfold, to around 450,000, creating a $1.3-billion weed market.

The U.S. market is also projected to boom, from around $1.5 billion in medical pot sales this year to around $6 billion by 2018.

Besides Colorado and Washington, where marijuana is or will soon be legal for recreational purposes, 18 states and the District of Columbia have allowed medical marijuana. Another 10 states have formal measures pending to allow it.

Medbox has seen its business boom in recent years. The company saw its stock price soar 3,000 per cent in a matter of days in November, 2012, following the votes to decriminalize pot in Colorado and Washington.

The soaring stock prompted the company to issue a warning that its share price was — ahem — too high.

"I'm thinking pot smokers shouldn't trade stocks," quipped one former hedge fund manager at the time.

Despite the booming industry, Medbox’s Bedrick believes there is a limit to how far pot vending machines can go, at least for now.

"There may come a time when cannabis is so socially acceptable that it will be sold to the public by vending machines, but we're still a long way from that day," he said earlier this year.

"That's not what our machines do, and it isn't how we market them."