May 23, 2017

Startup raises $8 million for marijuana breathalyzer

AP Photo/Jim Mone, File

Hound Labs, an Oakland-based maker of a breathalyzer that measures marijuana, announced Tuesday that it has raised $8.1 million in venture capital funding led by Benchmark (early investor in companies like Uber and Snap).

The problem: THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, can remain in a user's system for days (perhaps even weeks) after the period of impairment. That means traditional THC tests ― hair, urine, blood, etc. ― are less valuable in an era of increased legalization. What's key is knowing if someone is driving high, or comes to work high.

Solution: Hound Labs says that its breathalyzer measures THC molecules in breath at parts per million, as opposed to alcohol breathalyzers than analyze in parts per thousand. The company currently in conducting both clinical tests (in partnership with UCSF) and field tests.

How much is too much? There are not currently any legal breath standards for marijuana, so Hound Labs is basically replicating what was done with alcohol breathalyzers decades ago. Co-founder and CEO Mike Lynn (a former ER doctor and reserve deputy sheriff) tells Axios: "We get people high and have them drive in a controlled environment, to see what levels cause actual impairment."

Marijuana money: Hound Labs plans to create a recurring revenue model, by selling the device and then requiring a new cartridge for each test. Lynn says that the cartridge chemistry is "extremely stable," we means that they can be re-tested at a later date, so as to prevent wrongful prosecution or job termination.

Fun fact: Law & Order producer Dick Wolf is an early Hound Labs investor, and follow-on participant in the $8.1 million round.

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