Olympian Rebagliati urges pot decriminalization

Canadian Press
Updated: Thurs. May. 8 2003 6:18 AM ET

TORONTO — Pot has been part of Ross Rebagliati's public image since winning his Olympic gold medal in snowboarding and he didn't shy away from the issue Wednesday when asked if marijuana should be decriminalized.

"Absolutely,'' said Rebagliati.

"Right now the whole idea of it being decriminalized makes the legal system function at a level that it should be functioning at and not clogging up the courts and the judicial system and even jails or whatever for something like that.

"It's becoming more socially accepted now than it ever had been in the past. I think right now it's almost the sign of the times.''

The 31-year-old from Whistler, B.C., was in Toronto at a downtown Roots store to promote Vancouver's bid for the 2010 Olympic Games.

Rebagliati was initially stripped of his snowboarding gold in 1998 in Nagano, Japan, after testing positive for marijuana, but the medal was reinstated on appeal.

At the time, Rebagliati said he hadn't smoked up for almost a year and that he was a victim of second-hand smoke at a party.

He avoided talking about decriminalization then, but the issue has been in the news in recent weeks and Rebagliati was frank when asked about it Wednesday.

"It's up to the politicians to decide still,'' he said. "It's something that comes up. It's not every day that you hear the prime minister talking about decriminalization and I think in the recent weeks, everybody has been talking about it.''

Justice Minister Martin Cauchon and Prime Minister Jean Chretien have both said the Liberal government will introduce legislation soon to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot for personal use.

And there are cases before the Supreme Court of Canada, appealing convictions for breaking pot laws on the basis that those laws infringe on the Charter of Rights.

While Rebagliati and his lifestyle have benefited from the long shelf life of his Olympic story and his medal, publicly admitting he smoked marijuana has thrown a crimp in his life and it was part of the reason he retired from competitive racing.

He's not allowed into the United States. He needed a letter written by Roots co-founder Michael Budman to American authorities to get over the border to Salt Lake City to watch the 2002 Olympics.

He hasn't been to Europe since his competitive racing days ended but he believes there would be problems travelling there and he knows for certain going to Australia would be a problem.

"They use the same computer files and information,'' he said.

"It's a big problem actually. I can't compete in snowboarding anymore because I can't get down to the States. Corporately, it's definitely a blow.''

He is trying to get the travel ban lifted.

"I have a lawyer in Vancouver who is pursuing it for me,'' he said. "Right now I'm just trying to play the cards right and not ruffle too many feathers on the U.S. side of things.''

Meanwhile, Rebagliati has a number of eclectic interests.

"I don't want to jump into a nine to five job or jump behind a desk right away,'' he said. "I've got time right now to pursue more unrealistic things.''

He's become a golf addict, started racing stock cars, leads snowboard tours in Whistler and he's building a house in Whistler with his girlfriend.

He has dabbled in real estate the last few years and is considering obtaining his agent's licence because "you just have to sell one $5-million house a year, and that's pretty easy right?'' he said with a grin.

He has sponsorship deals with Roots, Salomon snowboards, Bonfire clothing and the Ben Hogan golf company.

He raced stock cars for the first time last summer and has aspirations of reaching the CASCAR level.

"My first race that I ever did and it was the first time I was even in the car and I passed a guy, right,'' he said. "It doesn't seem like much to pass a guy but when you've got like 15 rednecks out there who have been driving for 10 years and their stock car is their most valuable possession and to pass one of them on my first time in a stock car, everybody was pretty excited about it. It was just a rush.''

He was scheduled to star in a movie shot last month in Montreal -- he was to play a famous snowboarder forced to share accommodations with a rock star at a snowboard event -- but production has been delayed.

"I think there's probably a chance that it might happen still,'' said Rebagliati. "I'm not devastated it didn't happen, but if it comes back up, I'll be available.

"All these sorts of opportunities that are showing up. I haven't said no to any of them. I'll get into anything.''

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