Once shamed for testing positive for cannabis, gold medal snowboarder now builds pot empire

Once shamed for testing positive for cannabis, gold medal snowboarder now builds pot empire

As Canada legalizes cannabis, Ross Rebagliati finds redemption

VicesDecember 06, 2018 By Reilly Capps

Life is weird. Sometimes, it'll put you in jail for being awesome.

Canada's Ross Rebagliati won the world's first gold medal in Olympic snowboarding, in Japan in 1998. He was a worldwide hero. Days later, he tested positive for cannabis. They took him to a Japanese jail and took his gold medal away. He was a joke.

Today, cannabis is legal in Canada, and Rebagliati is more of a hero again. We reached him at his home in British Columbia to tell his story.

ROOSTER: I was just watching Saturday Night Live, the clip where they were making fun of you. They have you eating Doritos, listening to Smash Mouth and hanging out with the Jamaican bobsled team. 

ROSS REBAGLIATI: Yeah. I don't think my dad appreciated that like I did. 

It was the 90s, the taboo of it was strong. Stereotypes were strong. There was a ton of demand for cannabis and British Columbia is where it was coming from. At the same time, people were going to jail for having a little bit of weed in their cars, families were being broken up for something that, from my perspective, is part of a healthy lifestyle.

Smoking pot in BC, were you worried about getting busted by the cops and going to jail? 

All the time. I had a couple of close calls, where I got handcuffed in the back of the patrol car and they found my weed in my truck and I had to talk my way out of it.

Instead, you ended up going to jail at very strange time in your life.

At the Olympics. I won the gold (in snowboard slalom), I did my drug test, I tested positive for weed. Before I was able to prove that cannabis wasn't on the list of banned substances for snowboarding, the cops pressed charges against me. For importing a controlled substance into Japan. It was just in my blood, right? Bit of a stretch. But I ended up in jail that day.

If I put my arms out I could touch both walls. Tiny little room with just a table and chair. I spent pretty much four hours — it felt like all day — just sitting in front of an interrogator with a translator. They had no idea what weed was, or they pretended not to know. I used a cigarette to show them what a joint looked like. They had no idea. The translator didn't even know English.

I was already upset because I was already up for two days after the event, plus, the fucking 16 hours jet lag, not being able to eat food because I had so much anxiety…

photo - Ross Rebagliati fold medal run 1998 Japan

[Rebagliati's gold medal run at the 1998 winter games. Courtesy photo.]

(Rebagliati maintained then, and still does, that THC must have gotten into his bloodsteam via second-hand smoke at a party.)  

I got my medal back while I was in that jail cell. There was a famous shot of me (on TV) holding the medal up, showing that I got to keep it. That was on the steps of the police station.

Probably not where you expected to show your gold medal to the world.

I thought it was a disaster, like I was gonna be shunned when I got home. I had no idea.

Were you shunned or were you embraced?

Both. Tons of people supported me. And tons of people didn't support me. I and my family received death threats in the mail.

Why would someone want to kill you for smoking weed?

You know how people are. They think weed goes against the church. They think weed is the devil's thing, they believe the war on drugs.

It's almost hard to remember.

Weed was basically like a scary thing. Cops used it to pull people over and racial profile people, cause they knew they had weed on them. Everyone had weed on them. But they'd use it against the colored people to propel their machine, to put people into private jail and make money off them. It was a super terrible, horrible thing that happened to our society, the war on cannabis, which had no basis, no reason to be prohibited except the corporate lobbyists who were trying to protect their interests.

Twenty years ago you were like one of the people who could say, like, "You say cannabis is so bad, but I got a gold medal, so, suck on that."

I was pretty sure (cannabis was good) because that was how it made me feel. Now we've got the science, we've got the reports, we've got everything we need. This isn't Santa Claus. This is for real. People who think cannabis is bad, they don't even have a reason.

Now people are starting to be like, not only is cannabis not that bad, but maybe some other substances might not be that bad.

LSD and psilocybin and MDMA and all those other sort of substances can be very effective. There's a lot coming down the pipeline right after the cannabis rush dies down. We're gonna see legalization of other drugs really shortly.

Have any other illicit drugs helped you in your life?

100 percent. Those other substances, I did 'em a bunch of times. Before going to the Olympics, we would use LSD and mushrooms to do like 100 mile mountain bike rides. Or trek for like ten miles out into the backcountry and ski.

And you cut one hit (of LSD) into, like, five little slivers. You might do a sliver every two hours or something to keep your energy up, and by the end of the hundred miles you've done a hit. You're not gonna see pink flamingos flying through. It's like a coffee, basically, but you don't have to pee.

Did you use those drugs around the time you won the gold medal?

I wouldn't say right around the time because everything was so intense. The only thing I'm really into is smoking weed.

I wonder what Saturday Night Live would have thought if they'd known you'd used LSD to go on 100 mile bike rides.

The average person that's lived a sheltered life might not have understood it. But these comedians, they've been around the block.

photo - Ross Rebagliati and his marijuana

Now you've made it your mission to spread this medicine you love, cannabis.

Our cannabis company, Legacy, is our baby. We're everything cannabis.

We've got deals in the works to have dispensaries on ski resorts. The whole ski resort and ski industry is based on, Let's go to the top of the resort, have lunch, have a few beers, go skiing, do apre. So we just want to infuse weed into that whole thing.

If there's a restaurant at the top of the mountain where you can buy a hamburger and a beer, there should be another one right next to it where you should be able to buy weed.

We're gonna have stories in every hill and valley and every nook and cranny.

If you turned into a weed mogul — it'd be justice. For someone like you to flouish, that's be sweet. 

Can you believe it? They literally dealt me the cannabis card 20 years ago at the Olympics, with my gold medal. And they screwed up because it wasn't even on the list of banned substances! So it was really a gift.

And then maybe someday you can market LSD microdoses for 100 mile bike rides.  

100 percent. I'll be the guide.

photo - Ross Rebagliati and family - cannabis business

[Rebagliati and his family today, in British Columbia.]

* This interview has been edited for length, clarity and flow. *