By Roger Parloff, senior editor @FortuneMagazine March 21, 2013: 4:11 PM ET * * * * * EmailPrint
Jason Levin, a young engineer who lives in Berkeley, is addressing a group of 30 angel investors gathered in a long conference room at Seattle's stodgy Washington Athletic Club. Levin is hoping to persuade one or more of the people around the table to invest in the startup company he envisions, called Uptoke, in exchange for a stake in the company. He has seven minutes to make his presentation.
Levin and his team of engineers have produced prototypes of a high-tech, handheld portable vaporizer, he explains. Such devices heat cannabis (or tobacco or herbs) to the point where active chemicals are released without combustion of the plant material. The vapors are less harsh to the throat than smoke and contain few, if any, toxins.
The most effective vaporizer on the market today is the Volcano, a tabletop model that usually costs at least $650, isn't portable, and requires the use of a balloon to capture the vapors, Levin explains. Handheld vaporizers -- powered by either batteries or butane -- are also available, but all have their drawbacks. The simplest, which adapt e-cigarette technologies, are inexpensive but can clog and break and don't work with conventional cannabis flowers (i.e., buds), requiring instead the use of a canister of cannabis oil, which is messy, hard to find, and not to everyone's taste. The better compact vaporizers, which sell for about $250, can vaporize conventional marijuana but still take time to heat up, may require waiting between tokes, and need prior grinding and bud preparation.
In contrast, Levin explains, the Uptoke has a built-in grinder; buds are prepared and vaporized in a single chamber. It heats to 375° F in just 2.5 seconds, and requires no waiting between puffs. Power management tools automatically turn off the heating mechanism when the user isn't inhaling, which means that