Cannabis vending machines hit the scene in Colorado! Threatening the state’s budtenders with automation

Cannabis vending machines hit the scene in Colorado! Threatening the state’s budtenders with automation

Just when budtenders thought they were safe…

VicesAugust 19, 2020 By Will Brendza

You’re in a dispensary, you’re in a rush, but you want your weed. You know exactly what cannabis products you’re going to buy, and you can be in and out in just a matter of moments.

Except, in front of you, there’s some old hippie or a couple from Ohio, and they really want to talk bud. They want to ask every question they can think of about terpenes, THC content, organic flower and solvent-less oils. The minutes are ticking by. The budtender is being patient, but you are losing yours. You’re getting anxious. You’re irked. You could really use a toke.

If only there was some kind of way to circumvent all this. If only there was some kind of machine for people like you, who know what they want and don’t need to have a full-on heart-to-heart with the budtender. If only there were weed vending machines…

It sounds like fantasy — and it’s a concept that many-a-stoned-mind has pondered over the years. But, in this strange era of legal cannabis, it’s now become a reality. Cannabis vending machines are a thing. They’re here, and they might soon replace a lot of Colorado’s bud-tenders.

The analytic startup Anna designed these machines, which carry up to 2000 cannabis products at any one time. Two of these innovative devices have been deployed at Strawberry Fields dispensary in Pueblo, and more will likely soon start popping up in dispensaries throughout the state.

One of the biggest motivations behind these machines was COVID-19. They represent a means to get the customer their weed without anyone exchanging an illness. They eliminate the need for any social interaction at all, they offer a way to speed up the process of buying weed, and they reduce inefficiencies (like those chatty customers who like to hold everyone behind them up).  

These pot vending machines seem like a really positive innovation for the cannabis industry. (But, if you thought it was frustrating when a bag of chips got stuck against the glass, just wait until it’s an once of dank.)

However, there is the ethical question of what it means to start automating budtender jobs. When COVID-19 came around, and dispensaries became “essential businesses” budtenders everywhere sighed with relief. They weren’t going to lose their jobs — thank the cannabis gods. Sure, things were going to be different. But at least they had job security.

Not so, anymore. Now, as these vending machines creep onto the scene, a lot of budtenders could stand to become unemployed, replaced by machines who don’t need lunch breaks and who don’t demand living wages, who require no 401K and no medical insurance. Machines don’t bitch. And, they always show up to work on time and sober, and they never call in sick.

As a money-minded business operator choosing between an automated option that’s cheaper, more efficient and innovative, and hiring some inked up part-time musician/DJ, the choice is simple.

These cannabis vending machines won’t replace all of Colorado’s budtenders outright, overnight. People will always want that human connection, they’ll always enjoy talking about bud with people who know what’s up. But pot is a business like any other — a big one — and when an opportunity to streamline the system presents itself, businesses take it, more often than not.

So, don’t be surprised when you walk into your local dispensary and instead of being greeted by the smiling face of your Deadhead budtender, you find a vending machine in their place.

It’s just business.