When Elon Musk appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcast in 2018 and burned down a spliff, he probably didn’t realize it would cost taxpayers money.
Politico reports that’s exactly what happened, thanks to SpaceX’s role as a contractor with NASA. The federal space agency paid the company $5 million to conduct a “workplace culture” review, partly to make sure SpaceX employees “are following strict guidelines for federal contractors barring illegal drug use.”
And, yes, cannabis is actually legal in California, where the Rogan interview took place and SpaceX has its headquarters. But that won’t save the company from scrutiny.
First of all, SpaceX already had certain policies in place at the time of Musk’s appearance. When NASA announced in November 2018 that it would review both SpaceX and Boeing in the wake of Musk’s smokey appearance, SpaceX said, “our comprehensive drug-free workforce and workplace programs exceed all applicable contractual requirements.”
Second, NASA is a federal agency and marijuana is sadly still illegal on the federal level and use of illegal drugs violates the terms of the government security clearance that Musk holds because of SpaceX and NASA’s partnership.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told the Washington Post at the time the review was announced, “If I see something that’s inappropriate, the key concern to me is what is the culture that led to that inappropriateness and is NASA involved in that.”
Adding intrigue is the fact that NASA forced Boeing, who’s competing with SpaceX to build a capsule for NASA, to do the same review but didn’t pay for it. (Not that anyone is crying for Boeing and its $10.5 billion in 2018 profits.)
Overall, things between NASA and SpaceX seem to be generally OK even if things got a tad awkward recently when Bridenstine intimated that Musk and SpaceX should worry more about their work with NASA and less about the massive Starship rocket.
“SpaceX worked closely with NASA to account for additional work beyond the scope of the contract,” a SpaceX spokesperson told Mashable. Meanwhile, Boeing confirmed to Politico it didn’t receive additional funds for its review but only said things were “moving forward” on their current work.
We’ve reached out to Boeing and NASA for further comment.