Five years after the legalization of cannabis in Canada, Olympic gold medalist and cannabis entrepreneur Ross Rebagliati says government restrictions and stigma are hurting the growth of the industry in this country.

Rebagliati rode his snowboard to gold at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, in 1998 — the year snowboarding made its debut on the Olympic stage. Despite the fact cannabis was not on the International Olympic Committee’s list of banned substances, he was stripped of his medal three days later when the drug was found in his system.

Rebagliati protested the decision to take away his medal, claiming the trace amounts of cannabis in his urine were most likely from second-hand marijuana smoke. Ultimately, his medal was returned because cannabis was not found to be performance-enhancing.

But, he said, that moment prompted him to pursue a career in cannabis.

“I actually had the idea when I was being held in the Nagano police station,” he said in an interview with CBC News this week. “I am going to fight for this plant for the rest of my life, start a cannabis company and show everybody what cannabis is really all about.”

Former Olympic snowboarder and cannabis advocate Ross Rebagliati is shown in Williams Lake, B.C., in May 2022 for the opening of the Williams Lake First Nation’s Sugar Cane Cannabis facility. Rebagliati says government restrictions keep the cannabis industry from thriving in Canada. (Submitted by Ross Rebagliati)

And while he took on other jobs to fund his dreams, he kept at it, founding medical marijuana dispensary Ross’ Gold in 2013.

And on Feb. 8, 2023 — 25 years to the day since he won gold in Nagano — Ross’ Gold products started being sold in licensed dispensaries, a moment Rebagliati said gave him as much pride as his Olympic victory.

To mark the fifth anniversary of cannabis legalization in Canada, and to hear his perspective on how the industry is doing, CBC Radio West host Sarah Penton spoke to Rebagliati from his home in Penticton, B.C.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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You mention ‘bring cannabis out of the shadows’ … Can you talk to us more about what your experience has been like when it comes to, say, hiring high-quality managers, attracting investors, working with banks, that kind of thing?

For the most part, the stigma is relaxing [and] the stereotype is kind of going away, but it still exists, especially at that corporate level. So when it comes to attracting the right business person to run your company or manage your brand, there are some limitations there to what people are willing to do.

On the other side of things, you have banking, where banks are reluctant to open accounts for cannabis companies. Insurance companies are kind of in the same boat where it’s tough to get the right insurance for your business … There’s a bunch of things right there that are really blocking the industry from thriving and taking [cannabis] out of the hands of the black market.

If we can get the taxing, the regulatory things relaxed, and just streamline the business so that we can literally generate more revenue for the government — I mean at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about, and providing for our families. There’s a lot of small businesses out there that are literally having to shut their doors on a dream that they had … because they just can’t pay the bills right now.

Ross Rebagliati rides to victory in men’s giant slalom snowboarding on Feb. 8, 1998 at the Nagano Winter Olympics. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)

You, just only very recently, launched a line of product [Ross’ Gold] that’s on shelves right now … but the launch came [on] a pretty big day in your own history. Can you just tell us a little bit about what it was like to launch this product in this way and on that day?

It was totally unplanned but … we finally got our first product to market, in stores for sale on Feb. 8, and that happens to be the exact day that I won my medal in Nagano 25 years ago. So it was a pretty surreal moment for me to walk into the store that day and see my product finally for sale.

That was a mission that I had been on for 25 years. To finally see it come to reality was, I would say, as exciting as it was for me to be at the Olympics. 

 Five years after the legalization of cannabis in Canada, Olympic gold medalist and cannabis entrepreneur Ross Rebagliati says government restrictions and stigma are hurting the growth of the industry.  Read More