Early Uber and Snap investor bets on a marijuana breathalyzer …

hound labs marijuana breathalyzer

A breathalyzer for marijuana.
Hound Labs

In a first for the legal marijuana industry, a prominent venture
capital firm has made moves to cash in.

On May 23, Hound Labs, an
Oakland-based startup that makes a breathalyzer for marijuana,
announced a new $8.1 million round of funding led by Benchmark
Capital. In the past, the Silicon Valley venture firm made
early bets
on Uber, Snap, Dropbox, and WeWork, among other
technology giants.

Founded in 2014, Hound Labs is on a mission to make a reliable
breathalyzer that detects and measures THC — a chemical compound
responsible for marijuana’s psychoactive effects. The device is
moving into clinical trials and is expected to launch by the end
of the year.

A working marijuana breathalyzer has the potential to
revolutionize how police officers perform roadside drug tests.

As it stands, marijuana is hard to test for on routine traffic
stops. If an officer pulls a driver over and suspects they are
under the influence, the officer is likely to perform a field
sobriety test (“Follow my finger.” “Stand on one leg.”) An
officer may then bring the driver into the station and collect a
blood sample for a drug test, which can take six to eight weeks
to process.

THC stays in these body fluids for days or even weeks after a
person last smoked. A failed drug test indicates a person has
consumed marijuana — not that they are stoned.

The device from Hound Labs looks like a breathalyzer for alcohol.
When a person blows into the mouthpiece, the breath passes into a
single-use, disposable cartridge. A chemical reaction separates
the THC molecules from the sample, allowing an automated
mechanism to calculate the amount of THC present.

hound labs marijuana breathalyzer mike lynn

Dr. Michael Lynn, CEO and
cofounder of Hound Labs.
Hound
Labs

Dr. Michael Lynn, CEO and cofounder of Hound Labs, is a
practicing physician in an Oakland emergency room. He hopes a
breathalyzer for marijuana takes the guesswork out of roadside
drug testing.

“With alcohol, it doesn’t matter what your car looks like or …
whether you’re a man or a woman. At the end of the day, everybody
pretty much knows if you’re above a .08 [blood-alcohol level]
you’re going to be arrested,” Lynn tells Business Insider. “We
want to do the same thing for THC and take the subjectivity out
of it, make sure that everyone is treated fairly.”

The first clinical trials of the breathalyzer started earlier
this month at San Francisco General Hospital and are being led by
researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.

The breathalyzer will be geared towards law enforcement and
companies that perform drug testing. It will retail for between
$600 and $1,000, which is comparable to a breathalyzer for
alcohol. The cartridges, which store samples and can be re-tested
months later, will cost about $15 each. Lynn says a more
affordable consumer-grade breathalyzer is also in the works.

There is no legal limit for the amount of marijuana in a person’s
system when it comes to driving. But as breathalyzer technology
becomes more widely available, it could pave the way for a legal
threshold.

marijuana tweed canopy growth

A
worker prepares to move marijuana plants into a growing room at
Tweed Marijuana Inc in Smith’s Falls, Ontario.
Blair Gable/Reuters

Sales of legal marijuana
topped $4 billion
in the US last year, outselling Viagra,
tequila, paid music streaming services, and Girl Scout Cookies.
The North American market
is on track to reach

$22.6 billion
in revenue by 2021. Until now, most of the
support for this industry has come from
private equity firms that invest specifically
in companies
operating in legal weed.

The new round raised by Hound Labs marks one of the first
occurrences of a traditional VC firm making a play in marijuana.
In 2016, on-demand marijuana delivery startup Eaze closed
on $13 million in funding
from DCM Ventures and Tusk
Ventures.

Lynn says the new round of financing will allow the company
to grow its team, continue extensive testing, and get the device
ready for commercialization.

“This is a milestone for this industry as a whole,” he
says.

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