Source:   London Free Press (Canada)
Pubdate: February 13, 1998
Author: Julie Carl -- Free Press Reporter



Hours of class time spent teaching kids the evils of drugs crashed up
against a very different message awash in nationalistic fervor when
Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati tested positive for pot, a sociologist

"It says to . . . young people 'This marijuana thing's not so bad,' "
University of Western Ontario sociology professor Paul Whitehead said
Thursday. "It sends the message `This is not a big deal.' "

Whitehead, also a school board trustee, said he was surprised by strong
public opinion that the International Olympic Committee should have
overlooked Rebagliati's positive test for use of the illegal drug as "a
minor infraction, almost a technicality."

Rebagliati, of Whistler, B.C., was stripped of his gold medal after testing
positive for marijuana use. The Canadian Olympic Association won its appeal
of the decision and his medal was reinstated.


Whitehead credited part of the public's support of Rebagliati to nationalism.

"If this had been an African-American kid from the U.S. who tested positive
and the Canadian kid came second, how willing would we be to say, 'Oh, it's
only a little marijuana?' "

But Whitehead said more than national fervor shaped public opinion in this
case. Canadians' mixed feelings on the effects of smoking marijuana also
played a role, he said.


There's less consensus among Canadians on marijuana use than on other
illicit drug use, he said. It could be argued heroin, like marijuana, is
not a performance-enhancing drug, but the public would probably not be so
accepting if Rebagliati tested positive for heroin use, Whitehead said.

Const. Christine Vallee, a London police officer, teaches the VIP program
- -- Values, Influences, Peers, -- to Grade 6 pupils and the DAP -- Drug
Awareness Program -- to Grade 11 students.

Vallee said she's not comfortable with students hearing the message
marijuana use is "not a big deal."

"I try to stay away from debates on legalization," she said. "I'm there to
let them know what the law is and what the consequences are if they do
break the law."

Vallee, who's currently wrapping up the six-session VIP program at 22
elementary schools, said she expects Grade 11 students to be more aware of
the case when she begins teaching the DAP program.

Whitehead suggested parents use "the teachable moment" of the Rebagliati
case to talk to their children about it.

A colleague of Whitehead's reported to him his surprise at finding when he
talked to his children -- pupils in grades four, five and six -- they
didn't know marijuana was an illegal drug in Canada.

Discussing the fairness of applying the same standards of drug testing to
all sports could be a jumping off point for parents, Whitehead said.


Richard Cook, vice-principal of Wortley Road Public School, said pupils had
not been asking about marijuana use or the public's apparent acceptance of

But he had an informal chat this week with some Grade 7 and 8 pupils who
wanted to talk about applying drug testing rules fairly.

Don Varnell, associate superintendent of program services with the Thames
Valley District school board, said school administrators and principals
haven't asked board staff for guidance on how to deal with the issue in the
classroom. But, he said, the VIP program is an appropriate place for any