British Columbia·Q&A

Being arrested in Japan convinced Olympic snowboard champ Ross Rebagliati to devote his life to cannabis

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.

Gold medallist snowboarder recently got his own cannabis products to market

A smiling Olympic athlete dressed in Canadian red and white is shown wearing a gold medal around his neck, and holding the medal up in his right hand.
Men's snowboarding gold medallist Ross Rebagliati shows his delight at the 1998 Winter Olympic in Nagano, Japan. He was later stripped of the medal because traces of cannabis were found in his system. Upon appeal, he got the medal back. The experience led him to pursue a career in cannabis. (Reuters)

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."

A man is shown giving the "hang loose" sign outside of a building with a sign on the front that says Sugar Cane Cannabis.
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.

LISTEN | Olympic gold medallist and cannabis entrepreneur Ross Rebagliati speaks about the pot business:

Featured VideoCanadian Olympic snowboard gold medalist and cannabis entrepreneur Ross Rebagliati says government regulation is keeping the industry from being profitable and he's been fighting for cannabis for the last 25 years of his life

We're five years into legalization … How do you think we've done?

Well, it's been turbulent, to be honest about it. Personally, I'm ecstatic because we finally got to market with the Ross' Gold brand, and have products in the stores. So on a different level it was an amazing ride … but the industry is hurting right now.

People are having a hard time paying their employees and affording the taxes and the whole nine yards when it comes to starting a cannabis company and getting your brand out there. There's been a bunch of restrictions that are holding us back as far as marketing. And the tools that you need to get brand traction just aren't there.

OK. Tell me a little bit more about that. You mentioned taxes first off. What are the holdups there in your mind?

There's a tax that's called the excise tax, and the government taxes the producers $1 per gram. It doesn't sound like much, but it was based on a $10-a-gram sell price to the producers and the reality is, the maximum that they're getting is $3, and in most cases $2.20 and even sometimes below $1 for a gram of cannabis. The excise tax is at $1 per gram right now and it should be more around 20 or 30 cents a gram.

The other one is the regulatory restrictions that we have. THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive compound in cannabis) levels in edibles, for example, can't be higher than 10 milligrams and you can't buy a package with more than 100 milligrams in it. For somebody who has a good tolerance for cannabis, 100 milligrams is just the beginning of the night.

So we're looking at what we can do with the allowable amount of THC that's in the edibles and looking also toward things like consumption lounges where people can go and order a coffee, use cannabis, maybe get an edible or a cannabis drink, and congregate and be social … and really bring cannabis out of the shadows so people can get out of the house and enjoy their friends and be social.

WATCH | How the cannabis business has developed:

A look at five years of cannabis legalization

2 months ago
Duration 3:43
Featured VideoThis week marks five years since cannabis was legalized in Canada, after which the first two non-government owned cannabis stores opened in Vancouver. CBC News takes a look back at the expectations around its legalization, and what the market looks like today.

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.

A snowboarder gets low to the ground while navigating his way down a giant slalom course.
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. 


Jason Peters is a journalist based in Prince George, B.C., on the territory of the Lheidli T'enneh. He can be reached at

With files from Radio West