Ross Rebagliati, Cannabis Hero!
If you haven’t heard of Ross Rebagliati you must have been buried under an avalanche. The gold medal winner in the first ever Olympic snowboarding competition, Rebagliati is a long-standing member of British Columbia’s legendary cannabis community. Rebagliati has been called everything from “hero” to “pot head”, and to many Canadians, he is both.
Rebagliati’s gold medal was threatened by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for trace levels of marijuana found in his system during routine post-competition urine tests. The ensuing controversy brought out sympathy for the rogue slope-slider from unexpected quarters. Many once hard-line anti-pot people were heard to be muttering “Just give him the medal, it’s only pot!”
A close call
When ordered to relieve Rebagliati of his medal, the Canadian Olympic Association (COA) refused, and appealed the IOC’s decision.
It was a close call for Rebagliati right down the line. Testing had found a billionth of a gram of THC in his system. The IOC’s medical commission ruled the amount significant by a vote of 13 to 12. The IOC’s executive board ruled to strip Rebagliati of his medal by 3 to 2 with two abstentions. When his medal was returned, it was also by a one-vote margin.
Apparently, the committee was swayed by Rebagliati’s insistence that he had not smoked pot “since last April”, and had only tested positive because he had breathed second-hand smoke at his Olympic going away party.
A true hero
The decision, however close, was a message of tolerance for marijuana smokers everywhere, but especially in BC, where Rebagliati lives and trains.
An important part of that tolerance came from Rebagliati himself. Nobody was sure how he would react after the emotional rollercoaster of winning and then losing the gold, Rebagliati’s ordeal included being questioned for over seven hours by Japanese police.
“I don’t want to see kids think that they could smoke drugs and live a good life,” he said when confronted with reporters at the Vancouver International Airport after his return trip from Japan.
This comment set some to wondering if Ross Rebagliati was about to become the next poster boy for the government’s war on drugs. But Rebagliati exhibited the courage of a true hero, and refused to denounce either marijuana or his pot-smoking pals.
Fuel for debate
Rebagliati’s bravery became the fuel for political debate.
On February 12, Canada’s Justice Minister Anne McLellan announced that it was time to debate the legalization of marijuana in Parliament. She mentioned statements made by herself and Health Minister Allan Rock late last year, calling for parliamentary discussion on the medical marijuana issue.
Solicitor General Andy Scott supported McLelland’s position, saying he would welcome debate on decriminalization.
Alexa McDonough, leader of the federal NDP, came forward with words of support, pointing out the difference between marijuana and “hard drugs”.
Some Reformers also want parliamentary debate about marijuana. John Reynolds, a reformer whose riding includes Rebagliati’s home of Whistler, BC, publicly supported McLellan’s position on the issue.
BC Premier Glen Clarke defended Rebagliati by explaining that “?you could register a higher rating just by watching a Cheech and Chong movie.”
The Rebagliati saga was front page news across Canada for many days. Most editorials expressed playful happiness with the decision to return Rebagliati’s gold.
Marijuana activists were also enthusiastic supportive. In a nationwide CBC radio interview, prominent cannabis activist Marc Emery explained that “It’s patriotic to smoke pot in BC because the money stays in the community. Marijuana is grown right here!”
American media also got in on the act. Jay Leno had Rebagliati on the show in mid-February, and joked that President Clinton had smoked but not inhaled, while Rebagliati had inhaled, but not smoked.
Hockey Night’s punchy pundit Don Cherry ejaculated that he would have cut out the heart of any of his players who had touched marijuana. He later mentioned how a few beers would help relieve his head-cold, before stumbling off to count the receipts from his nationwide chain of booze-cans.
In the face of the overwhelmingly positive reactions to Rebagliati, Don Cherry’s comments entered public consciousness like a fart in the rose bushes.
A shining example
Ross Rebagliati has accidentally done a great deal of good for his fellow Cannabis Canadians. He is a shining example of the responsible marijuana user: in the peak of physical health, well-spoken, and unwilling to betray himself or his friends, even when under pressure from the authorities.
As a special tribute to Rebagliati’s Olympic Adventures in Nagano, we will be featuring a special “History of Cannabis in Japan” in our next issue.