Source: London Free Press (Canada) Contact: http://www.canoe.ca/LondonFreePress/home.html Pubdate: February 13, 1998 Author: Julie Carl -- Free Press Reporter REBAGLIATI CASE MESSAGE CONCERNS EDUCATORS, POLICE 'IT SAYS . . . THIS THING'S NOT SO BAD' 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 says. "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. NATIONALISM 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. NO CONSENSUS ON POT 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. NO QUESTIONS 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 it. 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 discussion.