The first vending machine, designed to sell postage stamps, was introduced in 1867 in London. Twenty years later, the Thomas Adams Gum company brought vending machines to the United States with gum dispensers on the subway platforms in New York. Today, vending machines are found worldwide, selling everything from candies, snacks, and beverages to clothing, cell phones, and yes… even cannabis.
In the time of a global pandemic, touchless sales processes are becoming the preferred method for many consumers. While new cannabis consumers may want a more guided approach with a budtender or sales associate, many experienced buyers appreciate a faster, less cumbersome way to get what they need.
Vending machines clearly have the ability to save time for buyers. But, vending age-restricted items, such as cigarettes, beer, wine, and cannabis, requires technology to take center stage to ensure that the buyers are who they say they are.
The Age of Artificial Intelligence
Vending machines for age-restricted items is nothing new. Cigarette machines were once commonplace across the nation, but without safeguards in place, juveniles quickly discovered the machines couldn’t differentiate between buyers; and as long as no one was looking, they could quickly buy smokes with a few coins and a quick pull on one of the levers.
As such, cigarette vending machines were officially banned in 2010 unless they were placed inside an age-restricted venue. However, thanks to smartphone technology, blockchain, and artificial intelligence, the tide may be turning.
Cultiva Wellness, a Florida-based company, was founded by Daniel Torres, an attorney of nearly twenty years. Cannabis Tech reached out to Torres to discuss how their technology works to ensure that their hemp vending machines take every precaution to keep products out of the hands of children.
“I am a barred attorney in three states; I am not putting my license on the line just to make a few bucks,” Torres commented, expressing how critical safety and compliance are in the industry. Explaining how the system uses advanced technology, Cultiva’s vending machines, called the Wellness Pantry, do “everything a bouncer at a nightclub or bar does,” but with more accuracy and efficiency using blockchain, AI, and your smartphone.
When a buyer walks up to the machine, the digital display requires the consumer to scan a QR code to initiate the process by downloading an app. With the app, the individual scans their government-issued identification. But then, this is where the technology gets interesting.
The next step in age verification requires that the person take a 180-degree video capture of their face. The system then uses facial recognition technology to verify that the person standing in front of the machine is actually the person from the photo identification card.
Benefits Beyond Sales
With a long history helping his Aunt with a vending machine business during his summers as a teen, Torres recognized the benefits of hemp and cannabis vending solutions, not just for the consumer themselves but for the producers.
“We’re providing an ecosystem where small companies, mom and pops, small hemp and CBD brands can gain additional visibility within the market,” Torres noted.
He continued, “They might be great farmers, but many don’t understand how to maneuver through the digital space. They don’t know to get their product to market – so we’re trying to provide the platform to expand their footprint, get in touch with distributors, and into the hands of retailers.”
Shelf space for hemp brands can be extraordinarily hard to come by; Cultiva Wellness not only provides valuable in-person visibility with the vending machines, but it also provides suppliers with e-commerce options. Like the early days of RedBox and Netflix, consumers can opt to find a vending machine near them where they can go and pick up their purchases immediately, or they can opt to have the product shipped to them.
“Many smaller shops, especially in hemp, don’t have the budget to get listed on Weedmaps or Leafly, nor do they want to,” Torres pointed out. Instead, the vending machines allow hemp and CBD producers to target their ideal locations, such as gyms, spas, or wellness centers.
Hemp or Cannabis: Vending Solutions Offer Options
While Cultiva Wellness is primarily focused on the hemp industry, other vending solutions are also popping up across the cannabis industry. Cannabis vending machines, like Anna, ZaZZZ, and Grasshopper provide automated sales solutions for cannabis retailers.
One thing all these vending machine manufacturers emphasize is that the devices are not intended to replace the budtender. Rather, the devices simply provide another point-of-sale within the regulated businesses. Vending options allow more experienced consumers to get what they need faster, while new consumers get a more focused experience from the budtender.
While the cigarette machines from the 80s may have been ahead of their time, technology today allows the necessary safeguards for convenient, fast sales that provide the assurances necessary for the heavily regulated industry.