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Ross Rebagliati: pioneer of the pot legalization journey

Ross Rebagliati zipped down the snowboard course quicker than any other competitor at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympic Games. Rebagliati was a surprise gold medalist, given the fact he had failed to register a top-three finish in the snowboard events leading up to the Olympics.
Ross Rebagliati zipped down the snowboard course quicker than any other competitor at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympic Games. Rebagliati was a surprise gold medalist, given the fact he had failed to register a top-three finish in the snowboard events leading up to the Olympics. - The Canadian Press

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — It was maybe a year or two after the 1998 Olympic Winter Games, and Ross Rebagliati was still riding a high, as it were, from his gold-medal win Nagano, Japan.

The Canadian snowboarder was training in Colorado on Copper Mountain. An hour away, in Denver, The Rolling Stones were booked to play at the Pepsi Centre and Rebagliati was invited to the show as a guest of Roots, his main sponsor.

We’ll let Rebagliati pick it up from here:

“We had a backstage pass with the band,” he recalls. “And in this room offstage were these Indian tapestries hanging from the wall. And these Afghan rugs. The Stones like them, apparently. And then — how’s this for contrast — there’s this life-size cutout of Elvis. And in his mouth is a big, fat joint. A real one.

“We’re standing around, and Keith (Richards) comes out and says, ‘Well, we’d better smoke this before the show. Can’t leave this here.’ So we smoke the joint. It was great. We had a real nice conversation.

“Twenty minutes later, I’m in the front row watching The Rolling Stones, watching Keith Richards up there playing the guitar, and Mick Jagger is jumping around and singing, and I’m like, ‘This is amazing.’ I’m stoned, and I know Keith is stoned because we just smoked the same joint.

“It was wild.”

If there’s ever been an athlete so inextricably linked to cannabis, it’s Canada’s B.C. golden boy, Ross Rebagliati.

Think Cheech and Chong on halfpipe (snowboard run, that is).

So isn’t it ironic that exactly 20 years after his gold-medal run on Mount Yakebitai, Rebagliati is looking to capitalize on cannabis legalization, come Oct. 17?

Rebagliati has actually been preparing for this day for some time with Ross’s Gold, a high-end boutique in Kelowna, B.C.

“I believe millions of people will be able to use and enhance their day-to-day life through healthy living and healthy lifestyle.” 

Forget wine. We’re talking cannabis … bongs over merlots.

But as D-Day approaches, when it becomes legal to spark up in public, Rebagliati is rethinking his approach to turning a buck on grass.

Hence the launch of his new brand, Legacy, focusing on retail cannabis products, from organic soil systems, to home-growing cannabis plant kits, to Legacy Bites, a sort of energy bar which has cannabidiol, or CBDs, which Rebagliati says offers pain relief and is a “very powerful” anti-inflammatory.

Legacy, he says, will also be looking at acquiring its own licenced producer of cannabis.

“When you have a licence to produce,” he said, “it gives you other licences like import and export licences, and the ability to purchase from other producers. And, of course, you have the credentials to allow you to sell to the liquor board and get your product out into the various retail outlets.

“We’re planning on having Legacy outlets right around the world, actually.”

There was a time Rebagliati struggled to find a sunny outlook. The low point came days after the biggest day of his life, when he emerged from being just another wild and crazy snowboarder to become Olympic champ.

Three days later, after testing positive for marijuana in his system, Rebagliati was stripped of his medal.

Remember, this was 1998, exactly 10 years after the Ben Johnson fiasco in Seoul, South Korea.

And now, here was this fresh-faced, innocent-looking Canadian kid who could pass for your paper boy and he was … a stoner?

“I was devastated that this was happening to me,” Rebagliati, now 47, recalls today, “devastated for Canada to have to deal with another Ben Johnson story, and it was me who caused it.

“I didn’t sleep for days. It was a major struggle psychologically for me to put Canada in this position again. It hurt me that I was putting the Canadian Olympic team through this because our event was on the first day of the Olympics, and now the whole rest of the Olympics was my story and no one else’s story, and I felt shitty about that.”

Canada Ross Rebagliati didn't have long to celebrate his gold medal at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympic Games. Shortly after he was awarded gold, he was stripped of the medal after testing positive for cannabis. A few days later, the decision was overturned and the medal was returned to Rebagliati. - The Canadian Press
Canada Ross Rebagliati didn't have long to celebrate his gold medal at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympic Games. Shortly after he was awarded gold, he was stripped of the medal after testing positive for cannabis. A few days later, the decision was overturned and the medal was returned to Rebagliati. - The Canadian Press

Turns out weed was not on the list of banned substances; the medal was returned, and he was reinstated as 1998 Olympic snowboard champ.

There was a guest appearance on The Tonight Show where Rebagliati stuck to his story: he didn’t smoke weed. Rather, he ingested second-hand smoke (some of that, he says today, came at the wake of a friend prior to the Games. “There was quite a lot of consumption going on.”).

“Look, I smoked. I’ve never denied that,” he said. “I was using cannabis up until spring of 1997. We knew that THC would stay in your body for quite some time, but we didn’t know how long. I figured if I worked out and trained all summer and fall, I would be good to go by February. Participating in the Olympics was paramount.

“The night before my final race, I slept pretty good. If I was worried about something I’d taken, or something that was in my system, I wouldn’t have slept a wink.”

Rebagliati tried to take his new-found celebrity and run with it, but his 15 minutes of fame was running out. He fell on hard times, and it started with him being banned from entering the United States. There was a real estate deal that went south and a relationship breakup.

So, isn’t it ironic that Rebagliati has rebounded, thanks in part to his association with cannabis — the reason, it could be argued, he got into this mess in the first place?

“It took me a good 10 years to sort my life back together,” he said. “It’s been a hard go.

“But I’m not the kind of guy who runs away from adversity. I enjoy a challenge, and this was a major cultural shift. It really put the onus on me as an individual to say, ‘Look, I’m an Olympic gold medalist and I use cannabis. It’s good for me and it’s good for you.’

“I believe millions of people will be able to use and enhance their day-to-day life through healthy living and healthy lifestyle.

“If you have a group of university students binge drinking in one room, and a bunch of university students smoking a joint in the other, which group do you predict is going to do better the next morning in class?”

Rebagliati admits the whole cannabis thing is part of his legacy — hence the name of his company — and he says he’s proud to wear that as a badge of honour.

He’s been speaking about the benefits of cannabis 20 years now, he says, since back when the subject was hush, hush.

And now, he says, it lends credibility to his latest venture.

“I didn’t just come up with this when legalization came about,” he says. “I was part of the legalization.”

Robin Short is sports editor at The Telegram in St. John’s.

Robin.short@thetelegram.com 

Read the full report:  CLEARING THE AIR: Taking Atlantic Canada's pot pulse

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