Tesla share prices took a hit amounting to as much as 10 percent today, after billionaire CEO Elon Musk took a hit off what looked like as a marijuana stogie during a YouTube talk show. The controversial electric-car company was also hit with the departure of two key executives.
First, about that joint: The toke came in the midst of Musk’s appearance on “The Joe Rogan Experience,” hosted by Rogan, a stand-up comedian, reality-TV star and martial-arts commentator who’s built up a huge following for his video podcast. As of midday Friday, more than 1.6 million users had checked out his chat with Musk.
The 2.5-hour chat touched upon a wide range of topics — including the Boring Company’s foray into tunneling and flamethrowers, his long-running concerns about artificial intelligence, his vision to merge brains with software through the Neuralink venture, his plan to use SpaceX’s yet-to-be-built BFR rocket for suborbital point-to-point travel, and his idea for an electric-powered airplane that takes off vertically and would be capable of supersonic speeds.
But when Rogan lit up a joint more than two hours into the interview, it was the puff of smoke that sparked headlines.
“So is that a joint? Or is it a cigar?” Musk asked.
Rogan described it as marijuana inside tobacco, and asked if Musk had ever tried it.
“I think I tried one once,” Musk replied with a laugh.
“C’mon, man. You probably can’t because of stockholders, right?” Rogan said.
“I mean it’s legal, right?” Musk said. “Totally legal,” Rogan said. “OK,” Musk said.
As Musk took a puff, and sipped on whiskey, the two discussed the relaxing effect of alcohol and weed. Then the conversation morphed into the science-fiction side of autonomous cars. Minutes later, Musk checked his phone.
“You getting text messages from chicks?” Rogan asked.
“No, I’m getting text messages from friends saying, ‘What the hell are you doing smoking weed?'” Musk replied. He added that he “almost never” smoked marijuana.
“I don’t find that it is very good for productivity. … It’s like a cup of coffee in reverse,” he said.
The aura of weed has surrounded Musk before. Last month, when he floated the idea of taking Tesla private at a premium price of $420 a share, many noted that “420” served as longstanding code for marijuana use. (Musk denied that connection.)
Last month’s “go private” plan caused Tesla’s shares to spike upward, but when the idea fizzled, the stock took a beating. That beating continued today, in part because of the optics of Musk’s late-night, on-camera marijuana use. The price dipped as low as $252.25 before rebounding to the $260-$270 range at midday.
There were other factors at work: Tesla reported that its chief accounting officer, Dave Morton, was leaving the company after just a month on the job. Morton’s term of service happened to be a particularly unfortunate month, beginning just the day before Musk announced the stock privatization plan that fizzled out.
“Since I joined Tesla on August 6th, the level of public attention placed on the company, as well as the pace within the company, have exceeded my expectations,” Morton said in a statement that Tesla filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. “As a result, this caused me to reconsider my future. I want to be clear that I believe strongly in Tesla, its mission, and its future prospects, and I have no disagreements with Tesla’s leadership or its financial reporting.”
The circumstances surrounding the go-private, no-go-private episode have reportedly drawn heightened scrutiny from SEC investigators. CNBC quoted an unnamed source as saying that Morton resigned because Musk and other Tesla executives ignored his financial advice.
In addition, Bloomberg News reported that Tesla’s head of human resources, Gabrielle Toledano, would not be returning from a leave of absence.
The tumult comes as Tesla has been ramping up production of its Model 3 electric car, which is seen as a make-or-break effort for the company. Earlier this week, Tesla and Musk got a jolt of good news in the form of positive sales numbers reported by InsideEVs.com for August. “Tesla 1st, 2nd & 3rd in August sales,” Musk tweeted.
Unfortunately for Musk, this week’s high was followed by a downer.