VANCOUVER – On his average day, athlete Ross Rebagliati rises about 4:30 a.m., brews himself a cup of coffee and then stirs in the ingredient he considers most crucial: honey infused with cannabis.
“I just wake up feeling great, looking forward to my workout. And it takes care of any aches and pains from the days before,” he said Tuesday, before adding the medical-grade marijuana extract doesn’t make him high.
The Olympic medallist, who now runs his own medical pot company, said he’s convinced that educating citizens about the health benefits of marijuana will make it so mainstream that legalization is inevitable.
“I’ve been waiting 17 years for this to happen.”
Rebagliati expressed hopes the budding momentum will be seized by politicians leading up to the October federal election, one day after thousands across the country celebrated cannabis’ biggest day, known as 4/20.
“This election will make a difference,” he said. “This is an opportunity right now not only for political parties to open their eyes to the necessity of cannabis, not only for the people as a medicine, but now also as a political platform.
“It’s become such a hot topic that they just have to address it.”
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau supports legalizing marijuana, while NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair is in favour of decriminalization and the Conservatives maintain that a full criminal ban continues to be warranted.
The Tories spent more than $7 million on a anti-drug advertising blitz that concluded earlier this year, but Health Minister Rona Ambrose denied it was a veiled attack on Trudeau’s stance.
Rebagliati said his company, Green and Hill Industries, which markets under the brand Ross’ Gold, doesn’t support any party, but instead is on a mission to dispel the myths and reduce stigma of marijuana.
The biggest hurdle, in his view, is the U.S. inclusion of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, which he says is preventing the Food and Drug Administration from granting its approval as a legitimate medicine.
The 44-year-old father of two spent Monday, the day devoted to weed, at a booth in downtown Toronto promoting his company, which hasn’t obtained licences to sell the drug yet.
“Now that the scientific research is out there, it’s time to get that in front of normal Canadians, normal people around the world,” he said.
“So (that way) they can be comfortable with the idea that cannabis is a healthy alternative in many, many cases to pharmaceuticals and for other recreational drugs and alcohol and tobacco.”
He said the wide mix of people – including families and people wearing suits – who attended 4/20 events in places like Toronto and Vancouver on Monday shows that a broader demographic accepts pot.
He attributes the success of his company so far – which is touting a line of elaborate glass pipes – to the 1998 Winter Olympics when controversy ensued after he tested positive for marijuana. The athlete was stripped of his gold medal for snowboarding, but the drug was not officially banned. The decision was ultimately overturned.
He claimed his athletic performance is enhanced by a compound in cannabis called CBD, which doesn’t create the high but instead is an anti-inflammatory that reduces anxiety and pain.
He said the atmosphere for discussing pot has transformed, nearly two decades after his ordeal with the International Olympic Committee.
“At the time no one would listen to anyone saying how it would be good for an athlete or it can help children with epilepsy,” he said.
“For some reason it’s hard to get people to believe it.”