Elon Musk smoked weed on air, yet drug testing for CEOs is exceedingly rare

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In a video recording of podcast “The Joe Rogan Experience” this week, Tesla TSLA, -6.30%   chief executive officer Elon Musk appears to smoke marijuana. Host Joe Rogan asked Musk, “You probably can’t [smoke that] because of stockholders, right?” The answer is complicated.

Like many companies, Tesla reportedly drug tests employees who operate machinery in the factories that build its electric cars, according to forums on job site Indeed. As marijuana is legalized in more states, some employers have discussed eliminating the cannabis test and only looking for use of harder drugs, but many continue to do so for employees. Should executives who operate $57 billion companies be subjected to the same restrictions?

Musk referenced the legal issue in the podcast before hitting the joint, saying, “I mean it’s legal, right?” and Rogan replies, “It’s totally legal.” Rogan and Musk are based in California, which this year became the largest U.S. state to legalize the recreational use of weed. (Tesla did not respond to requests for comment).

‘I feel the journey to the C-Suite is rigorous enough to weed any such irregularities out.’

Vishal Agarwal, author of ‘Give to Get: A Senior Leader’s Guide to Navigating Corporate Life’

Last year, states that had not legalized marijuana tested for that substance in 98% of employee blood samples, according to Sample and Quest Diagnostics, a Madison, N.J.-based company that provides national clinical laboratory tests on potential and/or current employees. In Colorado, which legalized marijuana in 2014, 96% of tests including marijuana.

For C-suite executives, it’s a different story. Drug testing of executives remains rare, according to Vishal Agarwal, author of “Give to Get: A Senior Leader’s Guide to Navigating Corporate Life,” and former managing director of development and investments for General Electric Africa GE, -0.88% He said drug testing outside the U.S. is very uncommon and in most countries it is unheard of in a white-collar environment.

Drug testing is most commonly carried out on blue-collar workforces, including on the floors of factories, he said. “I have never heard of [drug testing an executive] in my 25-year global experience,” he said. “I feel the journey to the C-Suite is rigorous enough to weed any such irregularities out. The career life becomes a ‘sufficient drug test.’”

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In his book “Workplace Interventions,” Michael R. Frone, senior research scientist at State University of New York at Buffalo, argues they should. “If an organization has an alcohol and drug testing program, then testing should include all levels of the organization,” he said. “Substance use problems can exist at all levels of an organization, and senior executives can more broadly damage an organization than the typical employee.”

Illicit drug use has been tied to absenteeism, lost productivity, workplace accidents, and injuries, according to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.The ramifications are particularly pronounced for blue collar workers, who may operate heavy machinery and be more prone to a serious accident.

Addiction problems were the 8th most common red flag when spotting fraud and misconduct in companies.

However, drugs still cause problems for employees higher up the ladder, argues Frone. Some 70% of financial corruption cases involved someone in authority, according to a 2018 report from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, 38% of which were managers and 32% were owners or executives. Addiction problems were the 8th most common red flag when spotting fraud and misconduct, the study showed.

Musk’s reported recreational drug use was previously called into question when he abruptly declared on Twitter TWTR, -1.04%   he would convert Tesla from a publicly traded company to a private one, selling it at $420 a share (the number is a common joking reference to marijuana). Musk has previously said that drugs were not involved in this tweet.

The board of Tesla is aware that Musk has “on occasion used recreational drugs,” a New York Times report said. Rapper Azealia Banks publicly accused Musk of tweeting after taking the psychedelic drug acid. Kara Swisher, a tech reporter, said many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are now using psychedelic drugs like mushrooms, LSD, and the hallucinogen DMT in addition to weed to stoke creativity and innovation.

Of course, many executives do use drugs, and it doesn’t always hurt their careers. One recent high-profile example is President Donald Trump’s chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow, who battled cocaine and alcohol addiction in the 1990s that forced him to take a four-week medical leave from Bear Stearns. Prior to the leave he skipped a speech before 200 investors in 1994. He later went to a residential rehabilitation program for six months and said he is sober now.

Also see: Americans struggling with opioid addiction miss 50% more work than everyone else

The global drug screening market is expected to continue to grow 10% in the period between 2017 and 2025, according to figures released last month by market intelligence company Business Industry Reports. The rise is fueled primarily by workplace drug testing, it said.

Of all drug testing carried out by Quest Diagnostics, 70% are pre-employment drug testing of job applicants.

Of all drug testing carried out by Quest Diagnostics, 70% are pre-employment drug testing of job applicants, and another 15% is random testing of existing employees. The remaining tests are generally conducted after an accident to determine if drugs played a role, according to Barry Sample, director of science and technology at Quest Diagnostics.

The most common drug test includes five classes of substances: amphetamines, opiates, marijuana, cocaine, and PCP, making up about 50% of the total tests, Sample said. Some tests also check for barbiturates, benzodiazepines, methadone, or prescription drugs like opiates. Hospitals or dental offices may test employees for prescription drugs if drugs go missing.

Some pre-employment drug testing has been questioned for potentially enabling discrimination. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has sued companies for discrimination after they rescinded job offers to people who “failed” drug tests, when the people were actually taking the drugs for legitimate reasons like treating a disability or opioid addiction.

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