A Missoula based startup has received more than $1.2 million in seed funding for its device that detects marijuana impairment in real time, giving law enforcement immediate results and courtroom prosecutors solid evidence.

Gaize, launched last year by Ken Fichtler, announced the seed funding this month. The company is now backed by angel investors based in both Montana and the Silicon Valley.

The investors came aboard as Montana and other states legalize recreational marijuana.

“The majority of U.S. states have legalized cannabis, yet there’s no device that can detect active cannabis impairment,” Fichtler said. “This immediately struck me as one of the most important unsolved problems in our society.”

Fichtler said the funding will hire several key roles and help finalize the launch of the product. Gaize conducts an automated test that evaluates how cannabis impairment manifests in the body and impacts the brain.

Fichtler said THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, is not metabolized or expelled in the body in a way that mirrors impairment. That makes standard breathalyzers, and blood and saliva tests useless for anything other than detecting prior use, Fichtler said.

Roughly 20% of weekend drivers at night had drugs in their system, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Up to 2014, there was also a 48% increase in weekend drivers at night who tested positive for THC.

Ken Fichtler
Ken Fichtler

“Now that cannabis is legal for most of the population, prior use is not a crime. We have to understand active impairment, just like we do with alcohol.” Fichtler said. “Most people believe that cannabis should be legal, but they also agree that we need to have a way to know if people are too high to be driving or operating equipment.”

Fichtler, the former director of economic development for the state of Montana, said the product can also provide video evidence of impairment. The unique addition renders clear video from sobriety eye tests, giving law enforcement and prosecutors more tools in court.

But Gaize has value outside law enforcement and providing courtroom evidence. Fichtler said it can also be used at job sites to improve workplace safety.

“In a workplace where safety is the priority, Gaize will allow employers to know if an employee is too high to be working, and can do so proactively,” he said. “Identifying active impairment as opposed to just prior use also allows employees to safely use cannabis during their off-hours.”

The company's new investors include Fritz Lanman, the CEO of ClassPass, which opened a Missoula office in 2018. ClassPass was acquired by Mindbody last year but retains its Missoula office, where it employs around 60 people.

“Gaize is building the cutting-edge technology we need to ensure that cannabis legalization happens in a way that maintains the safety of our roads and workplaces,” Lanman said in a statement. “I’m excited to play a role in bringing it to market.”