Lead data journalist

Three in ten Brits believe having previously smoked cannabis should prohibit you from holding high level roles

Tesla CEO Elon Musk made headlines recently when a video of him smoking cannabis while taking part in a podcast emerged. The news was enough to send the company’s stock price falling by 6%, although it is not clear whether the video would have had such an impact had it not followed recent erratic behaviour from the entrepreneur.

With attitudes to cannabis being increasingly more liberal, how big a deal is it for a figure like Musk to take drugs while being responsible for such large and important companies as Tesla, and Space X?

Now a new YouGov survey reveals that almost one in five Brits (19%) believe it is acceptable for public figures like politicians or chief executives to be in post while at least occasionally taking cannabis.

That relates to current use, but what about previous use? Such activities – even when they took place in the distant past – really used to matter. Back in the 1990s the possibility that Bill Clinton had smoked marijuana in college was a serious political scandal, yet years later Barack Obama’s admission that he used drugs would go largely unnoticed.

The most widely held opinion, expressed by 43% of Brits, is that while it is acceptable for such public figures to have taken cannabis in the past, it is not for them to do so while in that job.

By contrast, close to a third of Brits (31%) hold a more hard line view, saying that having ever taken cannabis should disqualify someone from holding such an office.

Harder drugs

Attitudes become less permissive once the drug in question moves away from cannabis and on to the harder stuff. No more than 5% of Brits believe that it is acceptable to be in post while taking one of the other six drugs we asked about – magic mushrooms, amphetamines, ecstasy, LSD, cocaine and heroin.

The main difference between these drugs is instead over whether or not someone should be allowed to hold high office if they have previously taken them.

Unsurprisingly the toughest position is taken on heroin use, which 64% of Britons believe should prohibit someone from receiving such a high level role. Only 27% think it’s ok to have taken heroin at any time before becoming an MP or CEO.

Young and old split over past drug use

Young people are more accepting when it comes to cannabis, with 30% of 18-24 year olds believing it is ok for MPs and CEOs to smoke pot. They are also only half as likely as their eldest peers to think someone shouldn’t be able to hold such a role for having ever taken cannabis – 18% compared to 40% of those aged 65 and older.

When it comes to the harder drugs, the main difference between younger and older age groups is that older Britons more strongly believe that having taken such drugs should disqualify someone from holding a position like MP or CEO. Younger people, by contrast, are more likely to answer “don’t know”.

Photo: Joe Rogan Experience

See the full results here

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