By Steve Keating
(Reuters) – With Canada about to legalise marijuana on Wednesday, the World Anti-Doping Agency should remove cannabis from its banned list of drugs, says Canadian Ross Rebagliati, whose Olympic snowboard gold medal was taken away after he tested positive for the drug then subsequently returned on a technicality.
WADA, which fights the use of drugs in sport, is based in Montreal where 12 marijuana shops are due to open on Wednesday. WADA continues to ban the recreational drug while Canadians are preparing to light up without fear of breaking the law.
For athletes the dread of being busted for smoking a joint remains, with cannabinoids such as cannabis, hashish and marijuana prohibited from in-competition use.
“I think it’s time, it’s overdue actually,” Rebagliati, who won gold at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, told Reuters, referring to removing cannabis from WADA’s banned list.
“If athletes are allowed to consume alcohol and tobacco let them have weed. It is the only thing that is good for you of those three things.”
Rebagliati, 47, now runs a company called Legacy Brands, a cannabis company focussing on cannabidiol consumables (CBD), nutrients and home growing kits. Cannabidiol is the marijuana extract used for medicinal purposes.
In 1998, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), anxious to attract a younger audience, introduced snowboarding for the Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, and the first gold went to Rebagliati.
He was disqualified and stripped of his medal when testers found traces of cannabis, then reinstated on the technicality that marijuana was not at that time on the banned list.
“My medal was the only medal in Olympic history that has ever been given back,” said Rebagliati.
“I always found it interesting that cannabis wasn’t on the list of banned substances when I was at the Olympics and (that) was why I got to keep it in the end.”
Twenty years later, and with marijuana about to become legal in Canada, if the Olympics were held today Rebagliati would not get his medal back with the drug now on WADA’s banned list.
Cannabis has always posed a dilemma for WADA, with marijuana illegal in many countries and medical opinion divided on whether it is performance-enhancing or not.
In 2013 WADA raised the allowable in-competition threshold to 150 nanograms per millilitre of urine from 15 nanograms per millilitre and has taken cannabidiol (CBD) off the banned list.
“It is important to note that the list is not static but evolves based on new scientific evidence,” WADA said in a statement to Reuters.
“While the change in legal status of cannabis in some areas of the world may be one of many factors addressed during deliberations, legal status is not one of the criteria to be fulfilled for inclusion of a substance in the list.”
WADA noted that there has not been any recent discussion by the List Expert Group on the status of cannabis.
Beyond WADA, cannabis has generated extensive discussion in Canada.
With seven National Hockey League franchises across the country and Toronto being home to Major League Baseball’s Blue Jays and the National Basketball Association’s Raptors, as Wednesday approached there was discussion about what impact, if any, the cannabis legalisation would bring.
All the major sports leagues in North America — National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, National Football League and National Hockey League — conduct drug testing.
“I am not sure if the IOC was looking at it from a social standpoint or because it was against the law, but I think now the responsible thing to do is look at if from a non-idealogical standpoint and realise the benefits,” said Rebagliati.
“The NFL has been talking about using it for head injuries and recovery and other athletes from other sports, high impact sports, we’re finding more and more athletes leaning towards cannabis and individual extracts of cannabis to avoid the pitfalls of opioid use for pain-killing and other sorts of things.”
Rebagliati is looking to the future and the business of cannabis.
“In 2020 the next Olympics will be in Tokyo,” he said.
“We want to really leverage the legal position we have right now and participate in the marketing and sponsorship of events, maybe even one day things like the Tour de France (cycling) or the Olympics.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating; Editing by Ken Ferris)