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The Wall Street Journal went public in January 2024 with an anonymous source claiming Elon Musk’s use of drugs (including ketamine, Ambien, LSD, mushrooms, cocaine, and ecstasy) is concerning multiple executives and board members at his companies. Concerns reportedly include both mismanagement and negative public perception that could impact Tesla car sales, Space X contracts, and stock prices. One board member said she decided not to stay on because of the issues.

The more nuanced truth is that Elon Musk has been taking (and passing) random drug tests for the past three years. Why? It’s protocol for Space X employees, now that they’re government contractors. The Journal article focuses on incidents and concerns from 2019 and earlier, so the pearl-clutch responses from around the internet may be an over reaction.

Elon Musk laughing while sitting at the 2023 New York Times DealBook Summit
Elon Musk | Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for The New York Times

The Journal’s tell-all is unlikely to affect Tesla stock prices or car sales. In 2019, Elon Musk smoked weed, on camera, during Joe Rogan’s podcast. If this blatant drug use hasn’t deterred the stratospheric growth of Tesla’s market value, a few stories of past drug use are unlikely to do any damage.

Compare this with Steve Jobs’ calling his LSD trips “a profound experience.” Apple’s sales and stock prices obviously aren’t hurting as a result.

That said, the board does have a public relations issue as a series of blunders (occurring since Musk has been demonstrably sober) telegraph a plague of institutional mismanagement.

Here are just a few of the company’s recent issues: First of all, Tesla refused to recall autopilot-equipped cars killing first responders. Then, it admitted to planned obsolescence with infotainment screens Musk expected to fail. And more dramatically, Tesla employees were sued for using vehicle cameras to spy on owners’ “private scenes.” Finally, the DOJ subpoenaed Tesla for falsifying vehicle ranges and systematically suppressing driver complaints.

To be blunt, if Ford or General Motors had faced any of these scandals, heads would have rolled. CEOs have resigned over less. And there’s a good reason: after a mistake a company must show it’s learned and is changing if it wants to keep the confidence of its investors and customers.

So what happened after each of these scandals rocked public opinion of Tesla? The startup (which incredibly still has no PR department) did the equivalent of shrugging and muttering, “My b.”

Whenever I write about Tesla, I feel the need to say I am grateful for all that the company–and Elon Musk–has done to revolutionize the automotive industry and help the environment. Its advances in manufacturing are bringing EV prices closer to affordable. And Tesla understands as well as anyone that the future of lithium-ion EVs must be small, efficient cars and a robust charging network. But Tesla’s board has bigger problems to worry about than Elon Musk’s past drug use. And for the sake of our environment and economy, I hope Tesla sorts out its management issues sooner rather than later.

[Sources: Forbes, Business Insider, Wall Street Journal]

Next, see John Oliver cover more of Elon Musk’s antics in the video below: