Q&A with Ross Rebagliati

Ross Rebagliati | BCBusiness
Ross Rebagliati won gold in snowboarding at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, but was stripped of his metal (which was then reinstated) after testing positive for marijuana.

Ross Rebagliati, Canada’s snowboarding gold medallist at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, has a name that’s synonymous with pot, after having his medal stripped (and then reinstated) for testing positive for marijuana at the Games. Now he’s ready to capitalize on that reputation

In the 15 years following “the incident” at the Nagano Winter Games, Ross Rebagliati has maintained an uneasy relationship with his own reputation: on the one hand, embracing his role as spokesperson for the pot-in-sports movement (appearing on NBC to defend Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps after Phelps was photographed with a bong), but on the other hand struggling to establish a career for himself post-Olympics. When two U.S. states voted to legalize marijuana in November 2012, however, Rebagliati smelled a business opportunity, and with changes to Canada’s laws coming into effect this month allowing for large-scale production of medical marijuana, Rebagliati Gold Enterprises Ltd.—his new Whistler-based company—is vying to be among those rolling in the profits.

So explain to me how your new product line, Ross’s Gold, will work. You’re essentially a marketer and distributor, outsourcing production to some of the hundreds of companies hoping to get licences to grow medical marijuana as of April 1. Correct?
Right. Our producers can unload their entire crop on us on a regular basis and not have to deal with the distribution, not have to deal with the patients at all, and just focus on growing. We’ve partnered with over a dozen producers across Canada, who’ve invested in their infrastructure and have gone through all the red tape with Health Canada.

Until those producers get their licence, though, you can’t do much.
We’re not allowed to do anything right now, but we’ve got all of our ducks in a row and are working on different branding issues. We’re waiting, just like everybody else.

Describe your level of involvement in the end product.
We’re choosing the strains that we want to propagate and then we send those out to our producers. The strains, once they’ve been produced, get sent to our distribution centre in Toronto, and we’ll be opening up a second centre in B.C. shortly. They’re going to fall under different categories, depending on how much THC there is or how much CBD [Cannabidiol] there is. Ross’s “Platinum” is the strongest—the highest percentage of THC—and on the other end of the scale is Ross’s “Bronze” category, which is virtually no THC and all CBD. Silver and Gold are a mix.

Who’s bankrolling this business?
We’re raising money privately from friends, family and some high-net-worth individuals. We haven’t had to raise a tremendous amount over the last 12 months at all—we’ve outsourced a lot of our business to people who are making major investments themselves and just need a portal to move their product. And that’s what we’re going to be: the portal.

Is there going to be some sort of storefront in Whistler?
No. Initially when we were in the concept stage, we talked about that. But the new law, which prohibits that, had not been published, so now we’re strictly e-commerce.

What is the immediate potential for the company?
We’re set up to handle a high volume from the get-go. Let’s say that all of our producers get their licence on the same day: we’re going to be handling 1,000-plus kilos a year per producer. With a dozen producers, that’s 1,000 kilos of product a month that we’ll be selling.

Prior to Ross’s Gold, you dabbled in real estate, building and flipping houses in Whistler as well as promoting various real estate projects. Where did that business instinct come from?
I became a sponsored snowboarder in the mid-’80s, and I think at that point I kind of latched on to the idea of sponsorship and what the sponsors were interested in. What it boiled down to was branding and marketing. After the Olympics, I became my own brand—though initially I didn’t want to pursue my brand because it was so controversial: I had lost all of my sponsors, I wasn’t allowed to travel to the United States. The incident opened new doors while at the same time closing doors for me. It took all this time, until the atmosphere was correct, to launch this business.

What did you learn from your Olympic experience and almost losing that gold medal?
I had to really accept who I was as a person and know that, despite popular opinion and what people like my dad thought, I live a healthy lifestyle. Cannabis isn’t hurting me and it’s helped me so much over the years. Even though I got my medal back in the end, I resented the medal—I didn’t feel proud of it for years and years and years. Just recently, things have started to turn around, with me coming out of the “pot closet.” I don’t have to be the perfect Olympian anymore and the perfect role model for all the kids of the world. Instead, it’s time for me to put on my big-boy pants and realize that it would be irresponsible for me not to pursue this opportunity.

It sounds like what happened in Nagano sealed your fate for what your career would be.
I like to describe it as a hand that was dealt to me in 1998 that I’m finally playing right now.