A local company aims to make dispensing medical marijuana as simple and secure as a withdrawal from an ATM.
Aliso Viejo’s Dispense Labs unveiled today the Autospense, an automated dispensary that looks like a vending machine. Founder Joe DeRobbio prefers to call it a “dispensing system.” With its proprietary software and security features, he said, the Autospense bears little resemblance to a break-room snack vendor.
“These are very sophisticated machines,” he said.
The self-contained systems could be located anywhere, DeRobbio said, and the company will likely lease them to qualified dispensaries for $1,500-$2,000 a month. To use, patients must swipe a registration card, then enter a PIN number. Payment may be made with cash, credit or debit, then a door opens to release the product.
For after-hours purchases, the Autospense must be surrounded by a vending cage that is only accessibly by swiping the registration card. Fingerprint recognition offers one more step of security.
Locks, cameras and sensors make the machine difficult to tamper with, DeRobbio said.
“What goes in, what comes out, it’s documented and there’s no way to subvert that,” he said.
So far, one machine is operating at The Dispensary Store in Santa Ana. Patients who are registered with the dispensary may use their membership cards to access the encaged machine 24 hours a day. Features like more security cameras and purchase tracking appealed to Managing Director Lera Nastri.
“Of course you want to make sure all your members are safe,” she said. “The priority is for our members to have access to their medication.”
Security features and record keeping are some of the needs DeRobbio saw when he began looking at dispensaries several years ago. Drawing on his background as an entrepreneur, he made a list of problems with dispensaries, then a list of solutions.
“I noticed most of the dispensaries in operation were very haphazard, unorganized, dangerous,” he said.
The Autospense’s features are the result of DeRobbio’s efforts to mitigate problems. The transparency and controlled inventory will help allay local government fears of feeding a black market or contributing to crime, he said. Overall, the system will be safer, he added.
“The patient feels they are in a secure, safe environment where they can get their meds and not worry where those meds are coming from,” he said.
No dispensaries are operating in Aliso Viejo, and to City Manager Mark Pulone’s knowledge, no one has ever attempted to start one. The city doesn’t have an ordinance specifically banning dispensaries, as do its neighbors Laguna Niguel and Laguna Beach. In 2006, the city adopted a resolution prohibiting land uses that are illegal under state or federal law.
“This is the simplest solution to us until the federal and state agencies work out their differences,” City Attorney Scott Smith said at the time.
Medical marijuana has been allowed in California since voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996. However, the use of marijuana remains prohibited under federal laws, and in 2005, the Supreme Court ruled those laws could be enforced in states allowing medical marijuana.
DeRobbio is confident a system like the Autospense can change lawmakers’ minds.
“There’s a lack of education out there on the legislative level,” he said.
The majority of people using dispensaries have a legitimate medical need, he added.
“I think there is a place in society for medical marijuana.”