Calif. firm has ideas on vending marijuana

State welcomes input, but possibly not machines

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SEATTLE -- A company that makes vending machines to dispense marijuana is one of dozens of firms and experts that have offered to help Washington set up new rules now that the drug is legal.

But don't expect marijuana-vending machines in your company cafeteria or on a state ferry any time soon.

"The reality of the way the law reads, only a licensed retail outlet can sell marijuana. That pretty much prevents any corner vending machines," said Mikhail Carpenter, spokesman for the Washington State Liquor Control Board.

Medbox, a California company that makes automated dispensing machines for medicine, contacted the Liquor Control Board in December to offer its help creating a retail-marijuana program.

"I want to be completely clear that in Washington, these machines would be located behind a counter, inside a retail outlet, where it would be operated by a dedicated technician. There will be no direct-customer contact with the machine," wrote Dr. Bruce Bedrick, Medbox CEO, to the Liquor Control Board.

Bedrick said his company was setting up offices in Washington and would work with the state to create "one of the safest and most reliable retail-marijuana programs in the nation."

Medbox pharmaceutical-dispensing machines now operate in 130 locations, including medical-marijuana dispensaries, according to the company website. The machine dispenses a dose of medicine or other product after verifying a patient's fingerprint and checking for a valid prescription.

The company highlighted its machines' record-keeping ability as a way to ensure the state receives its cut of taxes.

The Liquor Control Board has been charged with drafting rules and regulations over the next year to govern an industry to grow, process and sell marijuana. It will soon issue requests for formal proposals of ways to carry out the new law.

The board got out of the state-licensed liquor business last year, after voter approval of private liquor sales in November 2011. Now it is trying to understand a product that has been approved for medical use in many states but is still illegal under federal law.

"We have a lot of experience licensing and regulating. The particulars of marijuana is something we could use some input on," said Carpenter.

The board has received more than 160 comments from the public on rules and restrictions for a marijuana-grower license. It will accept comments through Feb. 10. Similar rule-making is planned for processor and retail licenses.