Should Elon Musk really be smoking pot right now?

You work how many hours?
You work how many hours?
Image: NTB Scanpix/Heiko Junge/via REUTERS
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Never mind the Tesla short-sellers, the SEC investigators, the well-meaning friends, and exasperated lieutenants. Elon Musk will do as he pleases, and everyone else can just watch.

Specifically, they can watch him smoke a mixture of tobacco and pot on the Joe Rogan Experience, a podcast that featured the Tesla CEO as the lone guest on a two-and-a-half-hour episode broadcast live last night (Sept. 6) on YouTube.

We should say from the outset that Musk didn’t appear to impair his faculties and didn’t break any laws. It was just a shallow drag, really, and perfectly legal behavior in California, where the podcast was recorded and where Tesla is based.

Also, to be fair, it was a really long interview. Just prior to the smoke break, which doesn’t occur until the 2:10:00 mark, Musk had endured a witless, mostly one-sided conversation his host, the American standup comedian Joe Rogan, was having about luxury watches and about physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s habit of twirling his mobile phone around without a case. And then Rogan pulled out the blunt, to show Musk how it was meant to fit into an interesting looking jar from Mexico that Musk noticed among the knickknacks on the desk in front of him.

“So is that a joint? Or is it a cigar?” he asks. Rogan explains that it’s weed in a tobacco wrapper. “I think I tried one once,” Musk offers, with a laugh that makes it unclear if he’s nervous or just being sarcastic. Seconds later, Rogan passes him the blunt, and Musk smokes from it.

So what’s the problem?

It’s not the pot per se, although Musk himself has denounced the substance as a productivity killer. “There’s a reason for the word ‘stoned.’ You just sit there like a stone on weed,” he told the New York Times last month, in denying he was high on the stuff when he recklessly tweeted about his (now failed) plan to take Tesla private.

We also can’t fault Musk for kicking back a bit. He’s been working chaotic hours for years now, getting Tesla’s electric-car production up to speed while also running a space business and starting a tunnel-boring company. The upshot: the Model 3 is rolling out of the factory, but at a steep cost to Musk. Sleep evangelist Arianna Huffington, who is building a media company rooted in her devotion to wellness, has been publicly begging him to take a break and get the rest we all need to be at our best.

Musk has been resistant, insisting his long hours are essential to Tesla’s success during what’s essentially a make-or-break moment for the company. But his argument looks a lot weaker next to footage of a lengthy podcast with a comedian who appears to peer-pressure him into ingesting a narcotic on camera. “I mean, you probably can’t because of the shareholders,” Rogan teases him while lighting up the blunt.

Well, yes. At the moment, yes, that’s it exactly.

But Musk doesn’t answer the question. Instead, he smokes. And the next morning, Tesla’s stock plunged.

Whether investors were legitimately spooked by Musk’s behavior is beside the point. The optics were terrible.

It wasn’t just Musk’s toking that led to the sell off. Word also was making its way around Wall Street that Tesla HR chief Gaby Toledano, who went on leave last month, wouldn’t be coming back to the company, the same week chief accounting officer Dan Morton resigned after just weeks in the role.

It was terrible timing, for sure. But that’s the thing about leadership. We all deserve to take a breath sometimes. But when your company is under this much scrutiny, you might not be able to afford to inhale.