Olympic snowboard champion Ross Rebagliati's high hopes to make some gold in the marijuana business may be a bit of a pipe dream.
Fifteen years after Mr. Rebagliati briefly lost his gold medal when he tested positive for cannabis, the upbeat 41-year old has finally opted to try and cash in on an incident that brought him worldwide celebrity status, along with a notoriety that still has him banned from the United States.
He and some partners hope to open storefronts called Ross's Gold right across the country, starting with one later this spring in his hometown of Whistler.
Initially, the Whistler enterprise will dispense coffee and head shop paraphernalia. But next year, after Health Canada changes the rules, the group plans to sell medical marijuana at the back of their store, complete with a handy doctor or nurse practitioner to provide swift, on-site prescriptions.
"My name is synonymous with several things, and it's hard to disagree that one of them is marijuana," Mr. Rebagliati said this week, as his team began to spread the word about Ross's Gold.
"At this point, I'm looking out for myself and my family, and I'm using the hand dealt me 15 years ago, which I cannot, for the life of me, get rid of. I am not at all ashamed of who I am, and the fact I use marijuana."
But part of the plan is already under a cloud.
Yes, Health Canada is changing the way medical marijuana will be sold, but current proposals specifically exclude storefront operations such as the one advanced by Mr. Rebagliati and his team.
"That is not the vision at all," said Steve Outhouse, spokesman for federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.
In its move to privatize distribution of medical marijuana in Canada, while ending the practice of letting individual users grow their own, the government envisions the establishment of licensed producers, who will ship marijuana to customers by direct mail, said Mr. Outhouse.
And, in provinces where governments agree, pharmacists may be permitted to dispense medical marijuana over the counter, he said.
Storefront operations pose security concerns, Mr. Outhouse explained.
Still, he did point out the government has not made its final determination on the matter, and will continue to receive input until the end of February.
Despite Mr. Outhouse's remarks, Patrick Smyth, one of Mr. Rebagliati's partners, said the group believes storefront locations remain under consideration, but added: "Our business model is flexible, and we will work to meet government guidelines."
The new government regulations are scheduled to take effect March 31, next year.
Regardless, Mr. Rebagliati continues to be stoked with enthusiasm over his latest venture, following forays into real estate, construction, and federal politics.
"This isn't a joke," he said. "We're serious about it. When you walk into Ross's Gold, you're going to get the best, whether it's coffee, products, or medical marijuana. B.C. bud is famous."
With several American states voting to legalize marijuana, Mr. Rebagliati, who has been working building houses, said this is a good time to get into the cannabis business, even if it is restricted to medical use in Canada.
"I just feel the environment is righ to get in on the ground floor, and take it as high a level as it can go," he said. "Whistler is going to be our flagship store, and then, we will re-create it across Canada."
Mr. Rebagliati has had a roller-coaster existence since the International Olympic Committee stripped him of his gold medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics, then restored it, because there were no regulations that covered marijuana use. The engaging snowboarder, who became a hero to many, blamed his positive test on second-hand marijuana smoke from a pre-Olympic party he attended in Whistler.
The sudden renown was tough to handle, he said.
"It actually hurt me a lot, all these people thinking I'd made 10 million dollars and stuff. It gave people the wrong impression," said Mr. Rebagliati, noting he was denied access to Whistler's employee housing program because everyone thought he was rich. "I literally made only 30 grand that year."
Rather than exploit the marijuana incident, he opted to try to be "the perfect gold medalist, the perfect representative of Canada" and do lots of charity work, he said. "I still do, but it's not money-making. You've got to earn a living. Two kids will bring you to your senses in a hurry."
In Whistler, meanwhile, Jason Koehler , who owns the Two Guys with Pipes head shop there and is a medical marijuana user himself said he's not perturbed by the looming competition from Ross's Gold.
"It's good, man," said Mr. Koehler. "Ross was in here a few weeks ago. I smoked a joint with him. If that's what he's going to do, no problem. For sure. I'd much rather get my marijuana from a dispensary like his. That would be awesome. Wicked."