During a California court appearance Monday, when questioned about a 420 tweet, Elon Musk suddenly forgot the significance of the number in pot culture. The tech billionaire responded after being cornered by a prosecutor representing Tesla employees for a class action lawsuit alleging he tweeted and misled shareholders about the price of Tesla shares.
The fiasco began several years ago. In 2018, Musk rounded up Tesla shares from $419 to $420, announcing his plan to go private in a tweet. “Am considering taking Tesla private at $420,” Musk tweeted on Aug. 7, 2018. “Funding secured.”—sending officials from The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) into a tailspin.
Musk said he tweeted the share price based on what he said was a “firm commitment” from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) to take Tesla private. But about 10 days later, Musk admitted that the Tesla buyout he had envisioned wasn’t going to materialize.
After an investigation, the SEC fined Musk $40 million, forcing the billionaire to step down as chair of Tesla’s board. The SEC said that Musk misled investors. In the SEC’s complaint, Musk was accused of rounding up the share price to $420 from $419 “because he had recently learned about the number’s significance in marijuana culture.”
Musk caused instantaneous uproar about a month later, sparking a blunt with Joe Rogan on his show “The Joe Rogan Experience” on Sept. 3, 2018, shocking Tesla investors and officials across the board. His troubles didn’t end there. High Times asked if it was “the most expensive blunt of all time” due to the fallout, with NASA- and SpaceX-associated officials reviewing his security clearance.
The Verge reports that Nicholas Porritt is an attorney for a class of Tesla investors suing Musk for millions of dollars that they say resulted from his failure to take Tesla private.
The courtroom got tense: “You rounded up to 420 because you thought that would be a joke that your girlfriend will enjoy, isn’t that correct?” Porritt asked. “No,” Musk said, adding, “there is some, I think, karma around 420. I should question whether that is good or bad karma at this point.”
Musk said that 420 wasn’t a weed joke, but a roughly 20% premium on the $419 stock price at the time. “420 was not chosen because of a joke,” Musk testified. “It was chosen because there was a 20 percent premium over the stock price.” Musk also claimed that it was a “coincidence.”
The jury will decide if Musk should have to pay out up to billions of dollars in damages to Tesla shareholders for the money they lost due to his tweets.
Judge Edward Chen ruled that the jury should be aware that Musk’s 2018 tweets are false. Jurors will now need to decide whether Musk deceived Tesla shareholders because of his tweets.
Musk said that he was not relying on a commitment for the Saudi PIF when he tweeted “funding secured,” adding that his shares in SpaceX would also help fund the deal to take Tesla private. “Just as I sold stock in Tesla to buy Twitter… I didn’t want to sell Tesla stock, but I did sell Tesla stock,” Musk said. “My SpaceX shares alone would have meant that funding was secured.”
Musk has also been sued by a group of former Twitter employees after a mass firing. Musk recently became the CEO of Twitter after buying the platform for $44 billion in October 2022. Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz is Twitter’s second-largest shareholder after Musk.