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Elon Musk trying marijuana isn't shocking, but our hypocritical response to it should be

Most Americans have already tried pot and many use it regularly. So why all the overwrought reactions?
Elon Musk appears to smoke marijuana on Joe Rogan's podcast
Elon Musk appears to smoke marijuana on Joe Rogan's podcast,Joe Rogan Experience

Elon Musk may be in trouble, but it has nothing to do with the relatively young CEO taking a puff of marijuana on camera, as many have been led to believe. Tesla’s stocks tumbled 6 percent Friday, coincidentally after Musk took a singular toke of weed, but if the stock’s decline was related to his one puff rather than the deeper problems plaguing one of his companies and the man himself, that would have been because many in the media deeply mischaracterized the act and the use of marijuana.

The Fox affiliate in Denver — arguably the nation’s marijuana capital — for instance, ran “Tesla stock falls as CEO Elon Musk appears to smoke marijuana on video,” while The San Francisco Chronicle went with the typically pun “Tesla stock take a hit after Elon Musk appears to smoke weed.” On CNBC Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of the Yale School of Management dubbed this marijuana moment “reckless” before declaring all of Tesla’s board “negligent.”

And over on CNN an anchor declared, “Mr. Musk seems to be kind of high,” before portraying the Musk interview as a raucous frat party: “He was also throwing about a flamethrower — a samurai sword also came into this.”

But the frenzied reactions to Musk’s interview highlight a bigger problem plaguing the nation: Many of the nation’s premiere news outlets, pundits, academics, politicians and senior government officials remain willfully ignorant about marijuana.

Ignorance may be bliss inside one’s home, but when the nation’s elites share their uninformed assumptions or outright anti-pot bias with millions of people, it crosses a line. So, first some facts about marijuana.

Musk’s hitting some weed was nothing novel. It’s actually quite normal for millions of Americans. And the interview was filmed in California — one of the nine states where marijuana is as legal to consume as a Budweiser. Some 61 percent of the American public now agree that marijuana should be legalized, according to the Pew Research Center. In 30 states and Washington, D.C., marijuana is legal for medicinal use, and the Marijuana Policy Project estimates that there are 2.25 million people who use it on a prescription basis.

And though federal marijuana policy has long limited researchers’ ability to study cannabis’ effects in controlled clinical trials, the list of medical benefits is long and it’s generally accepted that even its worst potential side effects (few of which would happen with one toke) don’t compare with the ravages excessive alcohol use has left on society, including the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans annually.

I don’t have to rely on the data alone, though: I use marijuana regularly to relieve chronic pain and while, professionally, I’m not comparable to Elon Musk, marijuana doesn’t impede my functionality. Like countless millions of my fellow citizens, especially the nation’s veterans, it actually helps me function.

That’s part of why it’s so offensive to witness so many of my colleagues report so poorly on such a serious issue.

Just take Musk’s interview, the details of which were lost in the furor over the on-camera use of legal weed.

For starters, Musk wasn’t high during the interview, unless he toked before the show; it doesn’t make an appearance until the last 30 minutes of the multi-hour interview. And, if Musk is to be believed, he doesn’t even like marijuana: Just last month he dismissed it as “not helpful for productivity,” and, frankly, Musk’s one awkward hit makes his denials pretty believable.

Thus, two full hours before marijuana was even pulled out in the studio, we were all granted a rare, personal tour inside of one of the world’s most brilliant minds, and all anyone took away from it is that the man might have taken one puff of a legal-in-California plant.

And most of the coverage completely missed the raw honesty and nuggets of actual news contained in the interview — like that he’s personally warned former President Barack Obama, numerous members of Congress and the nation’s 50 governors of the threat that artificial intelligence poses to humanity and that he thinks they should set up a new regulatory committee to oversee AI. Or when Musk starkly laid out the stupidity of humanity’ current pace of carbon consumption and even his idea for an electric plane.

The knee-jerk and uninformed reactions to him smoking weed and its link to Tesla’s stock are also laughable because analysts had already predicted a 30 percent decline in the stock over a 12-month period before Musk toked on camera, and, on Friday Tesla shares were slumping because of the exit of the company’s new chief accounting officer.

Still, now even the Air Force is investigating the-toke-heard-round-the-Internet because Musk’s SpaceX has a contract with the government and people with federal security clearances are forbidden from ingesting marijuana in any form even in states where it is legal.

The nation has now reached the point at which marijuana remains stigmatized by those in power while many Americans in both red and blue states have demanded and gained relatively easy access to it. That mismatch was on display in the media’s reaction to the Musk toke.

It’s time that marijuana opponents like Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allow more studies on marijuana — studies that have been impeded or blocked because of the federal prohibition — so that everyone has better data on the actual effects of cannabis.

But for the media to unwittingly join Sessions’ war on weed and stoke fears among Tesla investors because of a single toke makes them guilty of spreading modern day propaganda on par with the 1936 movie “Reefer Madness. “

It’s time for today’s media to stop with the puns and stereotypes: Marijuana is part of many Americans’ regular routines, and that’s a story the media can help spread — sometimes just by allowing figures like Musk to do their thing with no fear of condescending, ignorant judgment by people living in glass houses.