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When Businesses Get TOO BOLD: The Hamburger Vending Machine Edition

According to history, the very first vending machines appeared in London in 1880. These coin-accepting machines allowed passersby to purchase envelopes, stamps, and post cards. Soon thereafter, they appeared in the U.S. and offered even greater varieties of offerings. Gumballs, beverages, and eventually cigarettes were popular items. But in the last few decades, innovations have been relatively scant when it comes to vending machines. Sure, most now accept credit cards, and the choices have expanded. But a true revolutionary change to these century-old devices has been lacking… until recently.

Popping all over the world are vending machines that offer much more advanced food options. In recent years, pizza vending machines appeared as well as pastry and cupcake ones. But the most curious one now involves a vending machine that offers customers cheeseburgers. Equipped with all the advances in modern robotics, these hamburger vending machines are described as “chefs-in-a-box.” Companies even go as far as to claim their vending machine hamburger are among the healthiest and most gourmet. But have these companies taken things a bit too far? Doesn’t the whole concept of getting a premium hamburger from a machine sound a bit cheesy?

Getting to Know the Chef

“Lettuce” step back and examine just how these hamburger vending machines work. While a few companies are now making vending machine hamburgers, Roboburger has received the most press. Based on New Jersey, their hamburger vending machines are roughly 12 square feet in size and have a touch screen. Inside, these boxes contain refrigeration systems, a griddle, and even a self-cleaning dishwashing system. In essence, they are self-contained and essentially autonomous. All they basically require are service staff to periodically come by and replace ingredients and ensure proper operation.

As far as preparing your vending machine hamburgers, the steps involved are quite simple. First, a robotic arm places a patty on the griddle, and then flips it over to cook both sides. Next, the machine toasts the buns before then adding condiments to one side. These ingredients are subsequently assembled, perhaps no different than a fast-food worker. And finally, it is placed in a cardboard box and delivered to the customer, anxiously awaiting outside. In considering the hamburger vending machine from this perspective, things sound pretty basic. But knowing the process hardly whets one’s appetite for these mechanically assembled sandwiches.

Between the Buns

So, having a robot hamburger vending machine for your chef doesn’t sound that great. But what if your vending machine hamburgers had premium ingredients? Would you still have a beef? For Roboburger, their vending machine hamburgers contain only grain-fed Angus beef from cattle that have never had antibiotics or hormones. Their products also come with the option of adding Wisconsin cheddar and Heinz ketchup. And they also use potato buns to provide a mare tasty experience. Plus, customers can even customize their burgers by choosing to have the condiments or cheese included.

a delicious-looking burger that I will eat
This is a picture of a delicious burger… that was NOT dispensed from a hamburger vending machine!

While a hamburger vending machine does allow some personalized options, it’s hardly the same as “having it your way.” The only condiments offered are mustard and ketchup, and the only cheese choice is with it or without it. At the same time, Roboburger doesn’t offer different types of patties. Some vending machine hamburgers do offer plant-based burger options, which might appeal to some. (To read more about these meatless burgers that are an affront to carnivores everywhere, check out this Bold story.) But the same issue remains when it comes to the ingredients. Choice matters as does quality components. And while Angus grain-fed beef sounds great, having it sit inside a vending machine waiting for preparation loses some appeal.

Taking Fast Food Too Far

For hamburger vending machine companies, the concept sounded quite good at first. These machines solve the problem of having to find fast-food workers during the Great Resignation. They take automated payments and can be located in a variety of places for low cost. And at least some, like Roboburger have been recognized as being safe by public health and safety entities. But the idea of getting a gourmet burger from a vending machine just sounds distasteful. From a literal perspective, vending machine hamburgers might be on a roll. But figuratively speaking, nothing could be farther from the truth.


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The Cannabis Revenue Stream

Currently, there are 37 states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal or recreational use. Each year, additional ones join the list, and some that were  medicinal use-only change to recreational status. Based on this, it’s evident the momentum toward legalization of marijuana has continued forward. And slowly but surely, municipalities and state legislatures are coming on board. Certainly, their attitudes have changed based on popular sentiment. But marijuana tax revenues are also influencing opinions in favor of cannabis legalization. But in many cases, it appears cannabis taxation is going too far, which may ultimately undermine the industry’s initial success.

Across the country, local and state cannabis taxation policies vary significantly. However, trends suggest that the marijuana industry is being unfairly targeted by new tax policies. Compared to other industries, higher percentage tax rates are being applied at all levels of the cannabis sector. (Read up on the global expansion of the cannabis industry in this Bold story.) In many instances, these are even higher than those in the alcohol industry. In turn, this is generating tremendous marijuana tax revenues for government programs. If appropriated well, this could have valued social benefits. But at the same time, if governments get greedy, it could make it impossible for local cannabis businesses to survive. Thus, it’s critical that policymakers examine cannabis taxation policies and its lasting impact on the sector as a whole.

Cannabis Taxation Practices Locally

While municipalities vary in their approach, many are leveraging marijuana tax revenues to make ends meet. Local licensing agreements with cannabis dispensaries and businesses are typically referred to as host community agreements. The name sounds appealing enough, but the tax rates typically aren’t. In fact, most charge such businesses about 2-3 percent of their total revenues for operating in the town. Depending on the density of cannabis businesses and volumes of sales, tax income for the city can be significant. In Hoboken, New Jersey, a single square mile in one area generates about $300,000 a year.

Understandably, these marijuana tax revenues benefit the community greatly. Cities routinely use these funds for a variety of needed activities. For example, some divert cannabis taxation monies to pay for snow removal, road safety, and park landscaping. Other uses include traffic improvements, library technology purchases, and drug education programs. But in the process, some cities have gone overboard. A recent study in Massachusetts found towns have collected $2.5 million over the state-allowed limit. One Massachusetts town mayor has even been charged with corruption related to cannabis taxation activities. Even at a local level, marijuana businesses are being singled out because they appear to be the “cash-cow.”

Challenges at the State Level

While local laws and policy can be tough, state restrictions can be more difficult. This is certainly the case in California currently. At the present time, the state imposes $161 state cultivation tax per pound of marijuana in addition to a state excise tax. The state excise tax is stated to be 15%, but in actuality, it’s closer to 27% of actual revenues. Once these as well as a local sales tax of 10% is factored in, the overall cannabis taxation rate is about 50%. This permitted California to enjoy over $1 billion in marijuana tax revenues in the first 3 quarters alone in 2021. These tax pressures are forcing marijuana growers and retailers to increase their prices to consumers. And as legal marijuana prices climb, illicit sales increase. That’s not good for the cannabis industry or the state in the long run.

someone with gloves on, massaging some herb
Marijuana tax revenues make the industry appealing to municipalities, so more of them are embracing the industry.

Not every state is as aggressive as California, but cannabis taxation policies are still getting in the way of policy goals. For instance, in New York, there has been a conscious effort at the state level to support social equity in the process of marijuana licensing. This means that marijuana business licenses are being prioritized to owners who have been negatively affected by harsh marijuana laws of the past. Minorities, women, and individuals from communities significantly affected by these laws receive preferential reviews. Likewise, those who have past marijuana criminal offenses or family members with the same are also prioritized. But when bureaucracy prevents cannabis success, good intentions fall flat. Unless a less aggressive approach toward marijuana tax revenues is considered, social equity goals may not be realized.

Ongoing Issues at the Federal Level

While many states and local communities are forging ahead, marijuana remains a controlled substance at a federal level. That means it’s technically illegal even though federal prosecutors and DEA agents aren’t pursuing charges. Regardless, it continues to affect bank loan access to many marijuana businesses due to these federal regulations. This has prompted repeated efforts to legalize marijuana at a federal level. The most recent effort passed the House in March, entitled the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. The legislation decriminalizes marijuana and takes it off the controlled substance list. It also expunges past marijuana-related crimes.

In all likelihood, however, the MORE Act is not likely to pass the Senate. The reason for this relates to components of the bill that seeks to address social equity issues as well. In order to support such programs at a federal level, additional federal cannabis taxation would be needed. Thus, cannabis businesses would again be subject to addition costs in an effort for the federal government to receive marijuana tax revenues. Given that state and local taxes are already excessive, this could be the kiss of death for many businesses. Thus, federal progress in this area may invite more harm that healing.

A More Thoughtful Approach Required

Initially, many communities and states justified excessive cannabis taxation because they suggested its legalization would introduce more problems. But as time passes, it has become clear that this has not been the case. Drug-related problems associated with marijuana has dropped significantly in many states. Likewise, there has not been any increase in traffic fatalities or injuries either. Regardless, legislatures continue to seek high marijuana tax revenues at the expense of cannabis businesses and owners. And in the process, they are driving increases in illicit marijuana sales and undermining the entire legal structure in place. If governments at all levels wish to attain important public policy goals, then cannabis taxation laws need to be revised. Without question, some marijuana tax revenues should help support community and state programs. But not to the point they destroy the advantages a legal cannabis industry brings to society.


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The Implantable Cancer Treatment Breakthrough

Over the last several years, many innovative cancer therapies have been introduced that improve overall outcomes. Many of these new treatments involve immune therapies that boost the body’s own immune system to attack malignant cells. Without question, these types of treatment strategies have greatly enhanced cancer care. But additional advances are needed since many of these interventions are limited due to side effects and costs. Understanding this, researchers have recently tested new approaches that they have labeled drug factory beads. These beads, which provide interleukin-2 treatment, look to be not only effective but safer than other cancer therapy options. And as a result, many are hopeful these strategies may represent the future of cancer care.

When it comes to cancer treatment, challenges often exist that limit effectiveness. On the one hand, many cancer therapies cause toxic side effects because they are given systemically. Likewise, many cancer drugs are seen as foreign by the body, which can trigger an immune system attack against the treatment. In both instances, the impact of the treatments is less, and the chances of eliminating the cancer reduced. But with these new drug factory beads, these challenges could be avoided to a significant degree. By supplying interleukin-2 treatment or other drugs in a more controlled way, the chance of cancer cures increases substantially.

“A major challenge in the field of immunotherapy is to increase tumor inflammation and anti-tumor immunity while avoiding systemic side effects of cytokines and other pro-inflammatory drugs.” – Amir Jazaeri, Professor of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine, MD Anderson

What Exactly Are Drug Factory Beads?

The new cancer treatment approach that researchers recently tried involves the use of drug factory beads. In essence, these beads represent engineered cells designed to produce specific chemicals known to attack cancers. First, researchers isolated retinal pigmented cells, or RPEs, as the key component of the drug factory beads. These cells were chosen because they are safe and because they do not develop into cancer themselves. They are then manipulated to produce interleukin-2 treatment. This chemical, which is a natural immune system protein, is known to attack cancer cells. Thus, once the cells are implanted, they start producing the protein, which then works against the cancer.

A bunch of vials of interleukin-2 treatment
The latest weapon in the fight against cancer: implantable beads that deliver interleukin-2 treatment.

In addition to these RPE cells, drug factory beads are also coated with polymer as a means of protection. Because these cells are foreign to the body, there is a chance the immune system will eliminate them quickly. This would naturally undermine the ability of these beads to release their interleukin-2 treatment. The polymer coating thus makes this less likely for a period of time so the drug factories can go to work. In the study, the encapsulation allowed drug factory beads to produce interleukin-2 treatment for up to 30 days. This was more than enough time for a positive cancer treating effect to be seen.

“If you gave the same concentration of the protein through an IV pump, it would be extremely toxic. With the drug factories, the concentration we see elsewhere in the body, away from the tumor site, is actually lower than what patients have to tolerate with IV treatments. The high concentration is only at the tumor site.” – Amanda Nash, Bioengineering PhD Candidate at Rice University

Less Toxicity, Better Effect

The important aspect of these drug factory beads involves more than their protective coating and cellular reengineering. One of the most important factors regarding this new cancer treatment approach pertains its localized effect. The drug factory beads are notably small, being only about the size of a pinhead. As a type of medical implants, they can be placed immediately adjacent to a tumor where they release their chemicals. In the case of the current study, interleukin-2 treatment was produced near ovarian or colorectal cancers. This effectively eliminated all ovarian cancer cells and nearly all colorectal cancer cells in roughly six days.

(Read more about innovations in implantable medical technology in this Bold deep-dive!)

Being able to implant drug factory beads making interleukin-2 treatment near cancer cells is important. This increases the level of drug effectiveness. But at the same time, it dramatically reduces the potential side effects these drugs might cause. Most cancer drug treatments are given systemically, using the body’s circulation to take the drug to the cancer site. But in the process, many other healthy tissues are exposed to these chemicals as well. This significantly increases the toxic effects of the drugs, which can limit their use. But with these drug factory beads, systemic toxicity can be substantially reduced. Therefore, not only can localized treatment yield better results, but they can be better tolerated as well.

“We found foreign body reactions safely and robustly turned off the flow of cytokine from the capsules within 30 days. We also showed we could safely administer a second course of treatment should it become necessary in the clinic.” – Omid Veiseh, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering, Rice University

Research Results and Future Promises

The current study involving these drug factory beads was conducted at Rice University. Researchers took mice with ovarian and colorectal cancers and treated them with these localized interleukin-2 treatment implants. In every mouse with ovarian cancer, and in seven of the eight with colorectal cancer, the treatment eliminated the malignancies. Likewise, toxic side effects were minimum, and the drug factory beads remained effective for a month. Based on these results, the researchers where highly optimistic about the future potential of these new cancer treatments. As a result, they hope to initiate human trials later this fall.

In the current study, the researchers chose interleukin-2 treatment because of its positive track record in treating cancers. It is well accepted as a treatment for melanoma and renal carcinoma. Similarly, the researchers believe drug factory beads with interleukin-2 might also be effective for pancreatic, liver, and lung tumors. Of course, the RPE cells can be engineered to produce other immune chemicals and proteins for a more targeted approach. If human trials demonstrate the same impressive results, then this strategy will likely become increasingly popular. Tiny cancer-treating implants could soon be one of the preferred ways of treating a variety of cancers in the years to come.


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