Snowboard champ Ross Rebagliati in child custody fight over pot use

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

The stoner persona, whether deserved or not, was part of Ross Rebagliati's cool factor when he was blazing a trail for the edgy new sport of snowboarding in the 1998 Olympics.

But now his admitted pot use has put him in a custody tussle with his estranged wife, Alexandra.

The National Post reported that the 33-year-old Kelowna, B.C., real estate agent has gone to court to seek primary custody of their three-year-old son, alleging the Olympic snowboarding gold medalist smoked marijuana in the child's presence.

Rebagliati shot to fame by becoming the first to win gold in the newly sanctioned Olympic event of snowboarding at the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan.

But the laid-back, Whistler-based athlete was stripped of his medal after testing positive for THC, the active ingredient in cannabis. Rebagliati insisted he had not been smoking pot but must have absorbed some passively via second-hand smoke at parties.

Rebagliati's medal was later returned because marijuana was not on the list of banned substances.

After a career on the professional snowboarding circuit, Rebagliati settled in Kelowna and worked in real estate. He also flirted with a career in politics, being acclaimed the federal Liberal candidate in the strongly Conservative riding Okanagan-Coquihalla in 2009, withdrawing a year later for "personal and family reasons," the Post noted.

[Related: Snowboarder Rebagliati withdraws candidacy]

Rebagliati's rep pursued him after the Olympic medal flap. He sued the CTV network for defamation, claiming an unsavoury character on its soapy murder mystery Whistler, an Olympic gold-medal winner who ends up dead, was directly modeled on him. The case was settled out of court in 2008, according to the Vancouver Province.

The Post reported Alexandra Rebagliati, who's divorcing Ross after seven years of marriage, alleges he was violating a court order not to use illegal drugs while caring for their son. She claims the boy came home mimicking Rebagliati holding a joint and saying "Look, Mommy, I smoking."

Rebagliati, 40, smokes pot daily, she claimed, and tests done on the child's hair at a private clinic found "cannabinoids."

An expert told the Post a positive test result could mean the child was frequently exposed to pot smoke by a caregiver or the hair could have been contaminated by physical contact.

However, a U.S. study says an array of popular baby soaps and shampoos contain ingredients that can trigger positive results on marijuana screening tests on newborn babies, according to Time Magazine's Healthland web site.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina began their study after an unusually high number of newborns in the university hospital's nursery tested positive for pot exposure in their urine.

The ingredients polyquaternium-11 and cocamidopropyl betaine, found in a wide variety of soaps and shampoos, produced positive marijuana test results, Time reported. Researchers theorized the substances washed off the babies' skin and contaminated their urine samples.

Alexandra Rebagliati said that during their marriage her husband smoked pot regularly and she tried vainly to get him to quit. A former girlfriend filed an affidavit that he smoked three or four times a day from 2001 to 2004 and needed pot to function and even to get to sleep, the Post said.

Rebagliati, who now lives back in Whistler with a new girlfriend, told the court he does smoke marijuana to soothe painful joints but not daily. He agreed to comply with the court order not to use drugs while his son was there but did not promise to quit smoking pot entirely.

Alexandra Rebagliati said his continued pot use "presents a negative role model for the child," and that the shared-custody agreement should be changed to give her sole custody.

The judge agreed her concerns about pot use was "well founded," but denied the custody application.

He said he believed Rebagliati was a "caring and capable father," and the little boy could do well routinely dividing his time between Whistler and Kelowna to maximize contact with both parents.