When Elon Musk tweeted that he’d be a guest on Joe Rogan’s podcast, little did he know that he would be at the center of the most controversial blunt hit heard ’round the world.
Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, sat down with Rogan for the 1,169th episode of the “Joe Rogan Experience” on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. What ensued was a sprawling 2 ½-hour livestream in which Musk and Rogan discussed the likelihood that reality is a simulation, colonizing Mars to be the next Jamaica, and the world’s dumb addiction to fossil fuels, but what drew the most headlines and social media chatter was when Musk smoked from Rogan’s blunt.
Two hours into the discussion, Rogan pulled out and lit a blunt. Musk asked whether it was a joint or a cigar. Rogan clarified that it was “marijuana inside of tobacco.” When asked if he’d ever consumed cannabis, Musk answered “I think I might have tried one once” with a laugh.
Rogan assumed Musk couldn’t join in because of his stockholders. Musk countered that it was legal. They were streaming from California, where recreational marijuana is legal. Musk took a hit as Rogan asked, “Do people get upset at you if you do certain things?”
According to data from the social media analytics tool Spredfast, the internet broke into tens of thousands of little tweets ranging from “Elon Musk didn’t even inhale” to “It turns out you need to take a drug test to operate a forklift at $TSLA but not to run a $57 billion company.” Meme after meme was added to the continuing Much Ado About Musk saga.
The day after the interview, Tesla’s stock tumbled 6 percent to close at $263.24 on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. Two top executives, Chief Accounting Officer Dave Morton and human resources chief Gaby Toledano, officially exited the business. It should be noted that neither executive attributed their exit to Musk smoking marijuana, Morton submitted his resignation on Sept. 4, 2018, and Toledano had been on a several month leave of absence before she told Bloomberg News that she wouldn’t rejoin the company. The next-day timing of stockholders dumping shares doesn’t seem to be over drug-testing hypocrisy or Musk’s inability to properly inhale smoke from a blunt.
To commentators in the world of business, Musk smoking weed on a public livestream is yet another distress signal that he’s crumbling under the turmoil and pressure to perform as the CEO of a high-profile automobile company plagued by production difficulties.
CNN Money correspondent Paul La Monica wrote that instead of focusing on Tesla’s “growing sales and ambitious plans,” investors are “watching CEO Elon Musk smoke a blunt with Joe Rogan,” mentioning cannabis consumption alongside some of Musk’s previous baggage, including Azealia Banks’ allegations that Musk tweets on acid and Musk’s unfounded accusation that one of the divers in the Thai case rescue is a “pedo,” as “bizarre behavior.”
Bloomberg’s article lead was “Dude, what are you, high?”
To many in the public, crucifying Musk for consuming cannabis is either kind of funny, according to comedian Ike Barinholtz; a double standard when an executive is exempt from drug testing, per @StilettoRoyalty; or missing the point entirely, as Airborne Toxic Event rocker Mikel Jollett tweeted, because of the highly skewed arrest rates for people of color for marijuana-related offenses.
I keep texting my friends pictures of Elon Musk smoking a blunt and they're starting to get annoyed with me
— Ike Barinholtz (@ikebarinholtz) September 8, 2018
Many within the weed culture believe that Musk and the subsequent negative coverage is unfair and demonstrates old stigmas that legal cannabis can’t quite shake.
Ben Curren, co-founder and CEO of Green Bits, wrote that the sequence between Musk and Rogan “has played on loop as evidence that Musk has lost credibility or, in the more extreme portrayals, has become unhinged.”
Matt Laslo pointed to a larger issue in his commentary for NBC News: “Many of the nation’s premier news outlets, pundits, academics, politicians and senior government officials remain willfully ignorant about marijuana.”
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Don Moore, a professor with the Haas Business School at University of California, Berkeley, said that Musk is a man of enormous capabilities and intelligence. Moore’s research centers on overconfidence and decision making, and he’s been observing Musk’s public appearances and media interactions over the past year.
“Many people have come away impressed with his good judgment, intelligence, and excellent memory,” Moore told Marijuana.com. “He’s an impressive person.”
David Ehrlich, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Zodaka, a payment system for high-risk merchants, is a personal believer in Musk’s extreme ambition, and of how the CEO is aiming to advance humanity with a business model to invest big in unprofitable industries to then create an artificial market and drive down the price to make the industry profitable and competitive.
Ehrlich said the interview reveals that Musk “doesn’t have any serious issues outside of being a slightly abnormal human.”
Musk isn’t a typical personality type, Vox.com Editor-at-Large Ezra Klein thinks, or a typical CEO. He’s revered by his many followers, sometimes referred to as Musketeers, who support his ambitious pronouncements, defend his public gaffes and celebrate his accomplishments, talents, and cocky persona.
“He’s a corporate leader who maintains a higher public profile and engages in somewhat more flamboyant behavior, more than most corporate chiefs,” Moore said.
Moore believes that Musk’s confidence and lack of inhibition have grown as he’s accumulated power. “As he has become successful and his companies have prospered, he has felt freer to speak out, to act out, to engage in unconventional behavior,” Moore said. “You can argue that he has earned that right, but psychology suggests that people in power often are less inhibited in expressing themselves.”
To Joshua Shelton, co-founder and CEO of Green Street, a cannabis-focused creative marketing and branding agency, it’s Musk’s confidence and lack of inhibition that led to smoking weed with Rogan.
“I think it is somewhat of a defining moment where you say, ‘Listen, I am one of the most successful businessmen in the world. You can choose to consume cannabis and continue to be one of the most successful people in the world,’ ” Shelton told Marijuana.com.
Ehrlich agrees. “Elon Musk isn’t really one to shy away from things that haven’t been done before and that’s obviously why he did it,” he said. “He takes one hit of marijuana because he’s an educated consumer … they talk about more stuff, and all the articles coming are ‘Oh, he has problems with drugs.’ It’s absurd.”
The move could be the beginning of Musk rewriting what it means to be a next-generation business leader who has a recreational relationship to marijuana, according to Shelton and Ehrlich.
“I think it’s a positive thing overall, and the backlash from the stock is unfounded and ridiculous,” Ehrlich said. “But I think when people see someone who casually uses cannabis and can still be an extremely successful CEO and a thought leader, it will help normalize the industry and the use of marijuana.”
To Moore, the business professor, if Musk’s public cannabis consumption has any positive effect on normalizing weed, it’s incremental. “Musk toking with Joe Rogan is not going to change the business world overnight,” Moore said. “If it brings about any change, it’s going to be small.”
And before it brings about positive change, it may be viewed as just another sign that Musk isn’t stable enough to lead Tesla. Moore recounted some concerns investors have expressed in Musk’s leadership, and that “his willingness to smoke pot on Joe Rogan’s show is one piece of evidence in a larger puzzle … whether he might be a loose cannon in a way that is potentially dangerous for the firm that he leads.”
Shelton said the reaction to Musk’s public consumption is emblematic of the kind of scrutiny cannabis entrepreneurs face from the world of banking, technology, and venture capital. Shelton explained that his marketing and branding agency, which doesn’t sell cannabis-related products, has had its bank account shut down four times in five years.
But that doesn’t mean that the business world’s slow-to-die attitude toward marijuana isn’t slowly shifting, according to Ehrlich. He said he suspected Tesla’s stock quickly bounced back because “other people who are more in the know of modern culture didn’t have a problem with [Musk’s consumption] and saw an opportunity to buy the stock at a slightly cheaper price and that’s why it recovered.”
Shelton, a CEO himself, is a testament to that shift.
“Would I smoke weed on camera with Joe Rogan and Elon Musk? Yes, absolutely,” Shelton said. “Especially under those circumstances. You’re in a comfortable environment with three adults having a conversation that is lighthearted about business and life. I think that’s the ultimate place where cannabis deserves to be.”