Cannabis consumers who stop by Terrapin Care Station dispensary in Aurora can now buy weed the same way they might buy their favorite munchies: from a vending machine.
In early February, the company installed what’s technically called an Automated Cannabis Experience (ACE), a large machine that enables customers to order marijuana products via touch screen and dispenses them ready to be taken home. Terrapin Care Station developed ACE in partnership with Canadian vending machine company BMC Universal Technologies, billing it as the first fully automated cannabis kiosk on the market.
The Boulder-based company first unveiled the dispenser at MJBizCon trade show in November, where industry personnel and avid enthusiasts lined up daily to try it out.
“It was crazy, it felt like we had an amusement park ride there,” said spokesperson Peter Marcus.
Locals who want to see the new technology for themselves can head to Terrapin Care Station at 11091 E. Mississippi Ave. in Aurora, which boasts the only ACE in use at this time. When they arrive, they still need to check in with and show proof they are at least 21 years old to a dispensary representative to be granted entry.
But once inside the pot shop, they can complete their purchases without ever interacting with a budtender.
Customers simply walk up to the machine, scan their ID, and use a touch screen to peruse the menu and fill their digital basket. The ACE can hold up to 1,152 products, Marcus said, and because it’s refrigerated, consumers can order concentrates that require being stored at a certain temperature, as well as flower, edibles, vape oil cartridges and other items.
Once ready to check out, customers pay using cash – the machine does not currently accept debit cards – and watch through a 38-by-30-inch glass window as the ACE grabs, bags, seals and places a purchase sticker on their order before dispensing it like your average vending machine.
Hopes to spark a revolution
If the concept sounds familiar, that’s because in 2020, The Denver Post wrote about another cannabis vending machine that debuted in Colorado, called Anna. According to Marcus, the two machines have significant differences, most notably that the ACE machine is integrated with Metrc, Colorado’s seed-to-sale marijuana tracking system, which makes it compliant with state and municipal regulations.
Matt Frost, founder CEO of Anna, couldn’t be reached for comment, but representatives of Strawberry Fields and Star Buds dispensaries, where Anna first rolled out, said the machines were short-lived primarily because of compliance issues. Ben Tafoya, supervisor at the Star Buds in southeast Aurora, said transactions were ultimately quicker the old-fashioned way.
“Everything has to be accounted for and everything has to be stickered after it’s been purchased to prove there was a legal transaction made, and so someone had to be standing at the vending machine at all times,” Tafoya said. “It was not as successful as we wanted it to be, so it didn’t stick around long. I think we only did a handful of transactions out of it.”
While Terrapin Care Station eventually plans to install ACE machines at its five other dispensaries on the Front Range, Marcus said the company’s long-term goal is to sell the technology to other “struggling” retailers throughout the state and country.
Cannabis sales hit record highs during the pandemic — accounting for about $2.2 billion in 2020 and another $2.2 billion in 2021, according to the Marijuana Enforcement Division, but have since plummeted.
In 2022, sales from January through November, the latest data available, totaled about $1.6 billion — a 21% decrease compared to the same period a year prior.
Additionally, many dispensaries are also experiencing the same staffing crisis plaguing other sectors of the service industry, Marcus said. Adding an automated check-out experience can not only help fill the gaps on staff, but also speed up the purchasing experience for customers.
“Plus it’s kind of a fun experience, not going to lie. It’s something that potentially draws new consumers in,” Marcus said.
If it catches on, the folks at Terrapin Care Station believe ACE could revolutionize the industry and pop up in places where traditional vending machines reside. Chris Woods, Terrapin Care Station’s CEO, called it “a genuinely game-changing way for consumers to purchase cannabis,” in a statement.
“It’s not crazy to think in a few years from now – with changes in regulation – you might see these at Union Station, or like ATM expresses where you swipe cards to get into the use the ATM,” Marcus said.
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