The right Message must be sent, no matter the cost

We were having our ball team wind-up back in September, 1988 when everything stopped so everyone could crowd around the TV set to watch Ben Johnson compete in the 100-m dash.
The sense of excitement was overwhelming in the moments leading up to the big race, and the cheers explosive when Johnson crossed the finish line first.
Of course, that patriotic fervour quickly turned to embarrassment and disbelief when Johnson was stripped of his gold medal because he tested positive for steroids.
Donovan Bailey erased the ghost of Seoul at last summer’s Olympic Games in Atlanta when he won the 100-m in world record time, although Canadians were leery about celebrating too wildly lest they got disappointed again.
His finish stood, and we felt vindicated. But that ghost came back to haunt us yesterday with word that Ross Rebagliati was stripped of the gold medal he won in Sunday’s snowboard event after testing positive for, of all things, marijuana.
The excitement everyone felt when he rocketed down the mountain from eighth-place to first, and the renewed patriotism as he beamed atop the podium, listening to “O Canada,” were short-lived again. And Canada was the joke of the sporting world once more.
There’s no question this stunning turnaround has devastated a country and a young man who’s trained so diligently to be an Olympic champion–only to have that dream dashed because, as he claims, he has a penchant for hanging around people who smoke pot a lot.
But the mess also has opened up a can of worms that has left the International Olympic Committee literally split over whether trace amounts of marijuana warrants stripping an athlete of his or her medal.
A big part of the problem is that not every sport deals with marijuana in the same way. Even the International Ski Federation says cannabis is okay–as long as an athlete doesn’t exceed 15 nanograms. In other words, a toke here or there is all right (just make sure enough of it clears your system in time).
Oh really?
The Canadian Olympic Association is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place in this one. On the one hand, it has to appeal yesterday’s decision to strip Rebagliati of his gold medal because of all the confusion and double standards surrounding the status of pot as a banned substance.
On the other, the COA has to be squirming over the notion of going to bat for a Canadian athlete who used to smoke pot, had traces of marijuana in his system before he even got on the plane to Nagano, and hangs around people who puff enough to make him go over the limit on their second-hand smoke more than a week later.
In effect, while parents, the police, health agencies, and government are trying to implore young Canadians to “just say no,” apparently we’re willing, as a country, to turn a blind eye to the practice if a gold medal is on the line.
Yes, you can applaud the Whistler, B.C. native for saying he quit smoking marijuana last April once it became clear he had a shot at making the Olympics. But one has to wonder if he would have resumed his habit once the Games were over, or just implicitly condone the practice by hanging around others who do.
The bottom line is simple. Marijuana is a drug. Marijuana is illegal here. Recreational marijuana use cannot be condoned. And the best way to send that message is to accept the decision to cough up the gold medal.
It may not be fair but then he should have known better, too. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Neither is stupidity.

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