Olympian barred from U.S. over pot use files application to cross border
Olympic gold medallist Ross Rebagliati hopes that being allowed to visit his mother in California won’t be a pipe dream for much longer.
The high-profile snowboarder travelled to the Peace Arch border crossing on Wednesday to apply for a special waiver that allows Canadians convicted of a drug offence to enter the country.
He had to file the application even though the 45-year-old has never been charged – let alone convicted – of a drug offence. Or any other criminal offence, for that matter.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, a drug offence includes simply “admitting to drug use,” and Rebagliati’s name is inexorably linked to marijuana use due to testing positive for THC shortly after winning the inaugural giant slalom competition at the 1998 Nagano Games.
Rebagliati, a medical cannabis advocate who now runs a dispensary called Ross' Gold in Kelowna, said he was last denied entry a few years ago when he and his young family were turned back during a trip to visit his mother, who spends her winters down south.
He decided to spend US$585 (nearly C$800) to apply for an I-192 U.S. Waiver of Inadmissibility that would allow him to cross the border, though there is no guarantee he’ll be approved and the maximum length of time it would be valid is only five years.
He said he is “optimistic” he’ll be approved and expects to hear back about his application in four to six months.
“There could be some issues revolving around my business Ross’ Gold and what it entails,” said Rebagliati. “I’m not the average guy applying for a waiver. You can easily Google me and see what I’m up to, but at the same time things are changing quickly.”
Although marijuana remains illegal under the U.S.-wide Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, nine states and Washington, D.C. have legalized adult-use recreational marijuana, and 28 states have approved medical marijuana programs. The federal Canadian government has promised to legalize recreational weed by July 1, 2018.
His lawyer, Len Saunders, said his client’s difficulties likely stem from an admission on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" nearly 20 years ago when he admitted to being a cannabis consumer. Rebagliati was famously stripped of his medal after his failed drug test, which he blamed on second-hand smoke inhaled at a party, but it was returned a few days later because marijuana wasn't actually on the list of banned anti-doping drugs at the time.
Saunders said anyone who is asked at the border if they’ve ever smoked pot is automatically barred from entering the U.S. for life.
“As an attorney, I can’t advise people to lie but what I can tell them is they are under no obligation to answer that question,” said Saunders. “If you say you don’t want to answer that question, you have every right to do that, and the worst thing that will happen is you will be denied entry at that date but you can always come back on a subsequent day and seek entry.”
Rebagliati said it’s been “depressing” to have been unable to travel freely to a country he used to spend a lot of time in.
“As a younger guy, I spent a lot of time in the U.S. training and racing and surfing and enjoying the great western states,” he told CTV News. “It was a big blow to my psyche getting … lumped into the criminal realm of things and not being allowed to travel into the States.”