Cannabis advocates have long been used to trotting out examples of bright and successful fellow enthusiasts to prove that the drug doesn’t necessarily destroy lives or kill motivation. Now, as legalization spreads and cannabis becomes as commonplace and accepted as alcohol, old stereotypes of stoners as lazy and ineffectual are starting to fall away. People in high-ranking professional positions can speak openly about their own drug with much less fear of judgement or penalization. These accomplished tech nerds have all used cannabis – in fact, it may have fueled a lot of their innovation.
The archetypal tech nerd, Bill Gates introduced the world to personal computing, arguably forever changing the way we think and interact. It’s maybe not surprising then that his visionary work existed alongside a bit of pot use.Recounting Gates’ undergrad days at Harvard, biographer Stephen Manes describes cannabis as his “pharmaceutical of choice” and quotes a former roommate’s recollection of how he and Gates would occasionally
“go off to the country and spend time contemplating the universe.”
Nor was Gates’ psychedelic experimentation restricted to cannabis -- in a 1994 interview with Playboy, he sheepishly copped to using LSD in his early twenties. Refreshingly, Gates’ open-mindedness seems not to have waned with age or wealth: he supported and voted for legalization in Washington, praising it as a worthwhile policy experiment in anticipation of federal legalization. Most recently, he’s steered Microsoft toward investment in Kind Financial, a startup that will provide fiscal infrastructure to a booming cannabis industry that is currently forced to deal exclusively in cash.
One of the most iconic innovators and CEOs in any industry, Steve Jobs was also an experienced cannabis user. Before co-founding Apple with business partner and high school buddy Steve Wozniak, Jobs pursued a resolutely counter-cultural lifestyle: he dated Joan Baez, traveled through India, and studied Eastern religion and philosophy. Perhaps inevitably, he also dabbled in psychoactive drugs. In a recently-released 1988 Department of Defense questionnaire that Jobs completed for government security clearance, he described using cannabis, hashish, and LSD regularly in the 1970s. Although the guru described weed and hash in the questionnaire as making him “relaxed and creative,” he had even higher praise for LSD, later saying that it was one of the most important experiences of his life.
Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian
Reddit, which bills itself as “the front page of the internet” was devised by former University of Virginia roommates Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian as a link-sharing platform with voting functionality. It’s since been acquired by Conde Nast, and has evolved into the most complex and self-regulating message board on the web. Besides being entrepreneurs, Huffman and Ohanian are also low-key cannabis advocates. In an interview with This Week in Startups, Huffman defended pro-legalization ads on reddit’s homepage as “one of the least inflammatory things” to ever appear on the site. Ohanian, meanwhile, has spoken a bit about weed’s role in internet culture, suggesting that reddit can be a fun place to explore when you’re high; he’s also identified himself as a “not-that-frequent marijuana smoker.” As of July 2016, the pair have invested in Meadow, a delivery service for medical cannabis.
Former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg may not exactly qualify as a “tech nerd,” but under his watch, conglomerate Bloomberg L.P. developed the Bloomberg Terminal, one of the most advanced and widely-used financial computer systems in the world. Bloomberg (who’s worth about $50 billion, give or take) spoke to New York Magazine during his 2001 mayoral campaign and when asked if he’d ever smoked a joint, replied
“You bet I did, and I enjoyed it.”
The quote later appeared on a full-page New York Times ad for NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), much to Bloomberg’s consternation. Disappointingly, he’s since distanced himself from cannabis, criticizing legalization as “one of the stupider things that’s happening across our country.” He’s cited concerns about the effect of cannabis on the developing minds of young people -- which is a fair point, but let’s not forget that this is also the man who zealously tried to protect New Yorkers from themselves by banning 16-ounce sodas.
Joel Simkhai founded Grindr, a location-based dating app for gay men that counts over 4 million users in 192 countries around the world. Grindr has entirely changed the way queer people interact with one another, and it paved the way for notorious straight counterpart Tinder. And he came up with the idea -- or at least the interface -- when he was stoned. Simkhai, who was born in Israel and raised in New York, spends most of his time in Los Angeles, where Grindr is based. The company says its name is meant to evoke “the idea of “grinding” people together in the same way that a coffee grinder grinds coffee beans.” Or, you know -- in the way that other kinds of grinders grind other kinds of things.
Mark Johnson has an impressive tech resume: formerly a Microsoft program manager and CEO of content recommendation platform Zite, he is now CEO and cofounder of Descartes Labs, a company that uses satellite data to project climate and agricultural trends. Speaking to Bloomberg News, Johnson offered maybe the most candid assessment to date of cannabis use in Silicon Valley:
he described the drug as “extremely common” in the industry, popular because it is “an extremely functional drug. Coders can code on it, writers can write on it.”
Johnson has self-identified as a daily cannabis user -- welcome news for fellow enthusiasts and prospective employees who are committed to creative tech solutions.