Source: Calgary Herald (Canada)
Author: Tony Seskus and Sheldon Alberts Calgary Herald
Pubdate: Sat, 28 Feb 1998


Popularity of B.C. snowboard hero not altering approach by drug unit

Although snowboarder Ross Rebagliati's Olympic success won the hearts of
many Calgarians, it won't earn pot smokers any favors from the city police
drug unit.

They'll continue to reward dope smokers with charges that could result in
fines of between $100 and $200.

"The guys had their own personal views as to whether he should keep his
medal or not," said Staff Sgt. Gord Banack. "But we're obligated to enforce
the law whenever we come across it. It's not a matter of choice."

Rebagliati, the 26 year-old snowboarding hero from Whistler, B.C. had his
gold medal reinstated after appealing a decision to disqualify him for
testing positive for marijuana.

Banack said the marijuana grown in western Canada is world-class, but
warned against inhaling.

People need to weigh the risks, he said, adding that getting caught could
keep them from getting student loans or government jobs. "Its's a bit like
unsafe sex," he said, "You shouldn't just look at the immediate 15 minutes."

Rebagliati's experience with the highs and lows of marijuana use has stoked
debate on Parliament Hill about decriminalizing the drug.

Several MP's, including Justice Minister Anne McLellan, say they寮 support
the issue coming before the Commons for clear-headed discussion.

"My colleague, the minister of health, and I have indicated we are willing
to look at the question of decriminalization for medicinal purposes, and
that in fact our officials have begun that discussion," McLellan said.

Grant Hill, Reform MP for Macleod, applauded the decision to have
Rebagliati's medal reinstated and said he took the snowboarder at his word
when he claimed not to have smoked the drug since April.

Hill, who practiced medicine in Okotoks and is a skier, said he might be
"OK" with decriminalizing marijuana only if it was allowed for medical

But Rebagliati廣 vindication at the Olympics shouldn't be seen as an
endorsement of smoking pot, he said.

"I've seen the problems. I影e seen the lack of motivation that comes with
regular marijuana use. It廣 not so much a physical addiction but a psychic
addiction to marijuana." Hill said.

He said marijuana and alcohol cause similar impairment, but cannabis stays
longer in a person's system.

"I would never want my (airplane) pilot to have half a dozen beer in him. I
would never want my pilot to have toked," he said.

"The difference is that marijuana is very slow to leave the body. It's
stored by our fat cells. Alcohol is absorbed in hours. Marijuana, as
Rebagliati's case proves, is absorbed in months."

NDP Leader Alexa McDonough suggested the snowboarder "will go down in
history" as having brought some sanity to the issue. She said it's "madness
that the simple possession and use of marijuana, for young people,
especially," leads to a criminal record.

"I think it廣 time for the government to get its head out of the sand and
deal with this issue." she said.

"Law enforcement officers have been recommending that we should
decriminalize marijuana. That廣 not legalization. It廣 decriminalization."

Solicitor General Andy Scott said he would welcome debate on decriminalization.

Reform Leader Preston Manning backed Rebagliati廣 appeal but said he is
firmly against marijuana use.

B.C. Reform MP John Reynolds, who represents the Whistler ski and snowboard
haven, called on Prime Minister Jean Chretien to demand an apology from the
International Olympics Committee for this unfortunate event and what
amounts to an insult to all Canadians.