Ross Rebagliati is best known as the young snowboarder who won a Gold Medal for Canada at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, and then had it stripped away when he tested positive for cannabis use. He got the medal back after an appeal, and then stepped back from the limelight. So what is Rebagliati up to now? Well, he's back in the news again because of cannabis - this time, though, as the entrepreneur behind the marijuana branding and marketing company, Ross' Gold. Publisher Derek Riedle recently spoke with Rebagliati for one of our Civilized Conversations - regular chats with entrepreneurs, politicians and entertainers. You can listen to the interview and read the edited and condensed transcript below.
How do you think the mid-twenties Olympian Ross would be looking at today's Ross?
Probably in disbelief, but also in a good way because I always knew cannabis was good for me and that it was a healthy choice. The timing of it 20 years ago - it wasn't right. No one would have believed you. The internet was barely alive. It was in its infancy. The information about cannabis wasn't there, and ideological positions were taken by the powers that be and it was just a non-win battle. It's great to be on this side of things, coming out of the pot closet. I never really denied my use of cannabis. I didn't say that what happened didn't happen. I totally fessed up to the fact that I used cannabis, and I stopped using it to meet criteria and inadvertently tested positive for it. So now, I have an MMAR license to possess cannabis. I'm legally allowed to have it. I have a huge weight of the world off my shoulders.
I feel like it's given me the ability to speak openly about it. I can actually actively convert a brand into sales, which I waited all this time to be able to do. It was really a gift, to win the Olympics and to have THC in my drug sample afterwards. And for it to become an issue when THC wasn't even on the list of banned substances at the time. I can't be more happy how things have turned out.
Were you happy then?
No, I was devastated. I was coming into the Olympics with a totally different mindset - to win. And nothing else. Nothing. That was it. I didn't think about anything else. I slept the night before. I wasn't worried about the drug testing.
It's amazing how times have changed.
Yeah, it is amazing how times have changed, and how I've gotten accustomed to my new life after '98. I feel privileged to have gone through the experience, and sort of led the way for the cannabis industry to rise above a stereotype and come from a position of excellence with the gold medal. Having cannabis be a part of a healthy lifestyle, for us, it's a perfect storm. It's a win-win for our brand.
How did you get into the cannabis business?
Well, first of all, I just decided to do it, which was a big step. It took a lot of guts for me to finally say to myself that I'm going to do it. Put my neck out there before prohibition is lifted, and create a cannabis brand, and to become a distributor of cannabis in Canada and the world. I had to go through the open doors that were in front of me.
Tell me about your company. What you do and where you're going?
Ross' Gold is a premium brand in the cannabis sector. Our goals are to be distributors of cannabis and cannabis products - edibles, the whole nine yards. Aside from that, we have also a premium line of glass that recently was launched last spring across Canada. I think by the end of December we'll be in more than 100 stores in Canada, and that number is growing. In that sense, basically, Ross' Gold is a branding and licensing company. We're going to the licensed producers and offering them the ability to take advantage of our marketing ability. We feel that branding is one of the main pieces of the cannabis industry. Marketing and advertising is everything.
It's funny, you could almost say that in '98 you were branded as a stoner and a cannabis user, and now you're actually using the positive form of branding to get some economic activity going, create jobs and invent an industry.
Absolutely. You nailed it. There is a huge opportunity for jobs. You don't see this sort of industry popping out of nowhere, ever. And so this is a big opportunity, not just for the companies who are going to get involved. There is going to be a lot of economic benefit to the provinces, to the communities, and to the country as a whole.
You used a term "pot closet," and I use "cannabis closet." There is going to be a line-up of people coming out of the cannabis closet over the next few years. It's going to be lovely to take these conversations from the garages and basements and back yards of Canadians to the boardrooms, sidewalks and water-coolers of Canada. I think it's gonna be pretty cool to watch.
It's going to be fascinating. To see who is using cannabis is also going to be fun. My mom, for example, is in her mid- to late-60s. She's got her license down in Palm Springs, California. She brings all of her older lady friends into the desert wellness clinic and gets them little vaporizer pens. It's going to be like the Golden Girls all smoking joints.
There is a sit-com I'll sign onto. Ross, it's been just great talking to you, and I really appreciate the time.