Ross's Gold, the medical marijuana-coffee shop franchise planned by Olympic gold medal-winning snowboarder Ross Rebagliati, could open its first of two Whistler locations by the end of March, sans the medical marijuana dispensary for the time being.
Two resort coffee shops are now planned for Whistler Village and Creekside, followed by others in Vancouver and Toronto. The venture developed following an announcement from Health Canada in December of its intention to privatize medical marijuana supply and sales.
"We are moving very quickly," said Rebagliati's business partner, Patrick Smyth of Ocean Eclipse Venture Capital.
Rebagliati gained notoriety after being almost stripped of the men's snowboarding gold medal at the Nagano Olympics in 1998, when minute traces of marijuana turned up in a drug test.
He was thoughtful when considering his reasons for pursuing the venture and branding himself this way.
"My name is already synonymous with this. It has been 15 years since I've been known for it. Other people are still concerned with having their names associated with (marijuana). I don't have that luxury," he said.
"I've tried to maintain my perfect Canadian status and my perfect gold medalist reputation, and it is just not flying. I cannot shake the association, so now that I'm 41 and have a family to care about I realized it would be irresponsible for me not to play the hand I've been dealt."
Rebagliati said they envisioned a Ross's Gold Coffee Shop with a backroom for 18-years and older which would have a medical marijuana dispensary and a doctor's office where prescriptions could be filled. There would also be a retail section where smoking paraphernalia would be for sale.
"Out front, the coffee shop (section) would just be a beautiful high-end atmosphere, the same sort of retail you'd see at any other coffee shop, mugs, tumbler cups, all branded as Ross's Gold," he added.
"Our goal is to be nationwide, in all the big metropolitan cities, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Vancouver. Like Tim Horton's you can find it anywhere."
Smyth wanted to emphasize that the plan is to follow current legal guidelines.
"We know what the laws are, and everything they're going to do will be within the bounds of the law. We are getting into the market early, before everything is set in stone, and the reason is the branding," Smyth said "We know we have to wait until everything is done properly with the laws before we go full-on with the medical marijuana dispensary."
Could Whistler, with its thousands of overseas visitors, one day supply foreign visitors suffering from conditions and ailments on the government's approved list (including cancer) medical marijuana from a Ross's Gold dispensary?
"Yep. And if they smash their face on a tree in the daytime," said Rebagliati, jokingly.
"That's all dependent on what the doctor or the nurse practitioner says. It is dependent on the laws and the regulations," Smyth said.
A spokesperson for Canada's Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said a "storefront scenario" is not Health Canada's vision.
"I can't speak to what their plan is, but what I can say is that public safety is something that we're trying to balance. We want to move into private distribution and that doesn't mean stores where people can go, sit down and smoke pot. That's not legal," the spokesperson said.
"Because we now are going to be putting this to private industry, there are rules that companies will have to abide by. They can't be near schools, they have to be a certain (number of) square feet, they need security measures in place to stop break-ins."
The minister does expect the private sector to open up business possibilities.
Public comments on the proposed legislative changes to the Marihuana (sic) Medical Access Regulations are welcome until the end of February. It will be presented to Parliament in March. The changes are due to come into effect in 2014.
Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said safety was her primary concern.
"If the federal government moves along with these regulations, we're going to have to have a look at our bylaws and regulations, obviously, to see if they have to be amended," she said. "This isn't really something the municipality has any choice about... It will be interesting for us if this goes forward."
On top of everything else, Smyth added that he and Rebagliati had been contacted by the producers of two different reality TV shows.
"It's crazy. They contacted us. We'll entertain the offers, I think it would be great if we could do something," he said.
Health Canada forecasts medical marijuana users to grow from 26,000 currently to 300,000 in the next decade, creating an industry worth $5 billion.