Meet Legal Weed’s First Billionaire

His ATM machine dispenses pot, not cash

If Americans get their cash from an ATM and their Snickers bars from a vending machine, then why not automated cannabis distribution as well? In 2010, California entrepreneur Vincent Mehdizadeh received a U.S. patent for his “biometric dispensing marijuana machine.” His company, Medbox, has since gone public—and made Mehdizadeh the legal weed industry’s first billionaire. So, might the Maui Wowie Machine be coming to a mall near you? We called the inventor to ask. 

Illustration: Nick Iluzada

We’ve seen stories about your machines, but you don’t have any set up at the mall or airport, right?

I have the patents on consumer-accessed marijuana ATMs, but we have not offered that concession until social sentiment catches up to us.

So until that day comes, what’s the use of a pot ATM?

We put the machines behind the counter in dispensaries and they’re marketed as secure safes. They hook into a point-of-sale system and spit out exact quantities in grams. Every transaction is monitored for tax purposes. It’s about inventory control.

I guess with all these cash-only dispensaries sitting on a mountain of weed, security would be an issue.

What’s great is that we’ve had a few break-ins, and they took a sledgehammer to the Medbox machine to try to open it and they can’t. So the medicine doesn’t make it out onto the street. Safety is a big deal. 

Mehdizadeh invented the pot vending machine, whose

domain is dispensaries—for now. Could it one day

become as common as the corner ATM?  

There are many critics who think that marijuana edibles—stuff like lollipops and candy—are only going to encourage kids to try pot. Does that worry you?

It’s a major concern of mine. The reality is that many of these products are being marketed like Froot Loops. We as a company are striving to control how the medicine is dispensed, to make sure the right person is getting it.

You refer to “medicine,” which is the only way weed is sold legally in most states. Recreational users snicker, but are there advantages to taking a conservative approach to pot?

The reality is that we’re already in a vice industry, and the smart play is keeping a conservative approach, being transparent. In order for this industry to be taken seriously and truly go mainstream, it needs to act responsibly.

Let’s say we get a far-right president and Congress in the next election. Do you think this relaxed stance about weed will go out the window?

It could, but it won’t.

Why not?

No matter what side of the fence you’re on, they’ll understand it from a purely procedural level. The government is starting to see tax and income benefits from this industry.

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