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Washington became one of the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use in 2012. But there are a lot of challenges ahead: the state must set up a licensing system for marijuana growers and sellers, the federal government may mount a challenge, the need to set a new limit on amount of marijuana in the bloodstream for safe driving. And medical marijuana is still in the picture.Over the next several months we will be exploring the issue and tracking the impact of I-502.

Mechanized Marijuana Dispenser Offers One Regulation Solution

Now that Washington has approved legalized marijuana, the state faces logistical challenges regarding marijuana dispensing, including defining consumer limits and determining business regulations. Weekday spoke with consultant and Medbox CEO Dr. Bruce Bedrick who shared his advice about marijuana dispensing.

Interview has been edited for clarity.

Why does legal marijuana need different controls than alcohol?

The answer to that is diversion, because if it’s legal for some people, it won’t be legal for everybody. It’s not going to be legal in other states. And so on some levels, we don’t know exactly to what degree, there may be some limits.

The real-time tracking and abilities to limit dispensing will be very important here. We won’t know what they are until the state of Washington creates the new rules and regulations by which the industry will operate. But whatever it is that they come up with, this technology [Medbox] we have patented will create the safest, most secure, most legally compliant way to operate from a distribution perspective – whether it’s at a dispensary or a store or some other way.

What do you produce and where is it distributed?

We are involved in consulting and we help in the medical marijuana arena. If people need help or are interested in getting into the industry, they contact us and we help them get involved in the industry in various areas, whether its cultivation or opening a dispensary.

In this particular instance, in terms of Washington, when the legalization takes affect, there’ll be people who want to get in and open up a dispensary or open up a site to retail it or become cultivators. They would hire us and we would help them do that.

We are also medical technology manufacturers and retailers with things such as the Medbox. We expect our technology to really revolutionize the way people acquire their prescription medicines from both doctor’s offices and retailers like Walgreens and CVS.

Medbox, according to your website, has 130 locations right now. And that includes medical marijuana dispensaries. How do they operate in a medical marijuana dispensary?

It depends upon the state. First, the patient has to get their doctor’s recommendation. Then they’ll get a state-issued ID card. So they will come to a dispensary and the patient will register on their first visit as a new patient. We take their fingerprint and they receive a Medbox card, which is kind of a HIPAA compliant ID card. It doesn’t have any of their information on it, but that in combination with their medical marijuana ID card from the state and their fingerprint allows them to get in on further visits into the dispensing room, which is through an electronic security door inside the dispensary.

Inside of the dispensing room, the patients see all of the medicines that are available, all of the infused products in display cases, choose what they want and the technician or staffer that works there has the patient slide their card, provide their fingerprint – the biometric fingerprint is there, once again, to prevent fraud – and verify the patient is who they are, and the staffer presses a button or two and the medicine is dispensed out of the machine. The machine is set behind the counter.

How much would they cost?

Our technology runs for $50,000, but for that $50,000 you get all of the technology, all of the software, all of the hardware that would be used to operate a facility.

Why does that make sense economically for someone? Why wouldn’t they just hire somebody at $13 an hour to do that work?

First and foremost, it’s a security issue. Secondly, there is always human error. When you remove humans from the transport and dispensing process, then you are running a safer, less expensive operation.

Medbox is reportedly one of dozens of companies that are contacting the state offering ways to offer its services as the state figures out the rules for setting up distribution. What is the potential business opportunity here?

We don’t really have projections for the state of Washington; it’s too early to tell. We don’t know what the rules are going to look like. What’s most important for us is making sure that the state gets it right. And offering our help to making sure that we provide the appropriate counsel, if they even hear us, about how to create a program that really prohibits diversion.

Is diversion a problem with states that have medical marijuana?

I would say in California there is, off the cuff. California has medical marijuana, but it’s not regulated. In the states that are regulated, there’s really not that much of an issue. But once they’re regulated well, there’s no issue.

California has tried to crack down on the proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries. Are there states that are doing it really well in terms of medical marijuana distribution?

They are going to start. The more and more states that jump on-board — we’re witnessing the end of prohibition. Things are happening and states will move in direction of allowing medical marijuana at least to start, and as that happens, lessons will be learned from each state moving forward and it will become safer and more secure.

And for you, personally, as a naturopathic chiropractor, how did you get involved in the medical marijuana industry? Why is it something that you think is important enough to pursue?

I lost my mom to metastatic breast cancer when I was 10, and I was an only child to my mother. It was the worst thing that anybody could ever experience, and that was back in 1979 and 1980 where they did surgery and chemotherapy and radiation and it was a miserable, miserable experience. And I know that had medical marijuana been available as a legal option to my mother that she would not have suffered like she had. She couldn’t eat, she couldn’t make it from the bed to the table without being in complete pain and with no appetite. So it just ate her up alive and it was just terrible.

And of course moving through my professional career, I kept my ear to the ground. I watched the industry grow in California. And I’m a big believer, a big proponent of its anti-cancer and therapeutic benefits and what it can do for people who are sick. One thing led to another, and I met my partner, and it’s been wonderful ever since.

Listen to the original interview from January 7, 2013, on KUOW'sWeekday (starts at 0:00:55).