Weed, Skateboarding and the Olympics
Monster Children, June 2019
Words: Robert Brink
Photos: Andrew James Peters
Design: Matt Rodriguez
It was only until a year or so ago, and going back a decade or more, that the usual band of skateboarding blowhards, and even the clueless types outside of skateboarding, could be heard saying (or seen typing) things like “Yeah, skateboarding will never be in the Olympics because no one will pass the drug tests!” Or, “Good luck getting anyone to give up weed to even get close to competing in the Olympics!”
Statements that come from the same knee jerk reaction-fueled foresight deficiency as say, celebrities claiming they will move out of the country if Donald Trump gets elected president.
And here we are, in 2019, with people like Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, Snoop Dogg, Miley Cyrus, Samuel L. Jackson, Bryan Cranston, Barbra Streisand and Chelsea Handler still residing in the United States and the Olympic debut of skateboarding in Tokyo happening in just over a year—with qualifiers full of countless skateboarders, testing negative for THC and other narcotics, already underway.
There are three things that people should’ve learned from skateboarding’s six decades of existence by now:
1. Never say never.
2. Change, progress and evolution, are not only inevitable, they drive skateboarding.
3. Don’t ever underestimate the will of skateboarder.
The following interviews comprise a cross-section of six different perspectives on cannabis, skateboarding and the Olympics, and, as much as we wanted to appease the naysayers, we came up short.
Olympics: 1, Blowhards: 0
Dashawn Jordan, Professional Skateboarder:
So you’ve never really been into smoking weed?
I tried it when I was younger, but I haven't smoked in years. I prefer not to.
What sparked that decision for you?
I hate feeling like I'm not totally aware. I like to be sharp with everything I do. There's nothing I hate more than talking to someone who's really high, or even when I would be talking to somebody who was sober when I was high. In a weird way I felt disrespectful because I wasn’t able to give my undivided attention or show true emotion about what they're talking about—I just don’t like that cloud over my real feelings.
Being in the skate industry, you’re around people who smoke all the time. Are you opposed to it or the legalization of marijuana?
I mean, my mom smokes, so I’m I'm not against it. The only thing I hate is when it's abused. When somebody's like “I have to smoke to eat.” Or, “I have to smoke to sleep.” That's when it's annoying to me.
So are you okay with people who use weed or CBD medicinally?
Oh yeah. I had a homie who works for a CBD company give me a bunch of stuff. And I was like, “You know, I can't really use it, but I'll give it to my grandma.” And you know I gave it to her and she used it and she said it actually helped her shoulder. It literally took away the pain. So when it's like that, do your thing. I'm not against it.
So from a competitive standpoint, if they do random testing at Street League in London next week, because it's an Olympic qualifier, you’re not stressed at all because you don't even smoke.
Yeah. I'm chilling. At X Games in Norway last year I did it the first time. The random drug test and stuff. I was like, “Dude, whatever you guys need me to do. I'm not tripping. I don't have anything in my piss!”
It sounds like you’ve had this mentality for a long time. It's not like you recently decided you wanted to be sharp for skating contests or anything.
It's been like that from day one for me. Like I said, I had enough time where I did it and it was like cool but it was never a time where it was like a religion to me and I just had to smoke.
If weed or THC weren’t prohibited in competition, would you be opposed if another skater who you were up against was using it? Do you feel that would give anybody an advantage over you in a competition?
It's a weird grey area. Some people may do it because they want to relax. Some dudes may do it because when they are high they skate the best. It’s crazy because you have somebody like me who is out there as the person they are, dealing with the stress and the pressure and everything at a sober, normal level, why should the other dude who has the same worries be able to smoke and relax?
I don't know if marijuana provides a ton of advantages. But if there is an advantage, that's definitely the one—the nerves and the performance anxiety. Because competition is, in part, about overcoming those nerves in my opinion.I skated contests when I was younger and nervousness was the most difficult part for me.
That's my main setback when I compete too—the nerves. That's the only thing that gets me. This year, that's the one thing I'm trying to work on—just mellowing out.
Oscar Loreto, Adaptive Skateboarder and Athlete Representative for USA Skateboarding, the National Governing Body for Skateboarding in the United States:
Tell us a little about your condition.
They say when I was in my mother's womb, the amniotic bands wrapped around my hands, fingers and feet, preventing development. So I was born without my left foot and without nine fingers. Medically, it’s considered a congenital birth defect, but there are other theories—whether it's just a fluke thing or something like my mom being given some kind of bad drug during pregnancy. There's really no concrete evidence regarding what caused it.
When did you start using a prosthetic?
Around two or three years old. There are photos of me as a young child just learning how to walk with it. Before that I just crawled everywhere.
When did you discover skateboarding and figure out you could make it work with your prosthetic?
I always saw my cousin skating at family parties and I thought it was cool. But it was like eighth or ninth grade that I really picked one up and figured out that I could do it. Eventually seeing Jon Comer was the first time I saw somebody skating with a prosthetic.
Have you been prescribed medications for your condition or pain management?
I didn't have the traditional phantom pains like amputees have. It wasn't really until I started doing sports and being active that I learned about pain meds.
Do you use marijuana or CBD medicinally at this point?
The first time I rolled my ankle was first time I tried it out. It definitely helped with that, then a collarbone break and a bunch of other injuries. Its just way more effective and soothing on the body compared to Vicodin or Oxycodone or whatever they would prescribe had I gone through a doctor or pharmacy.
I imagine you know a ton of adaptive athletes who benefit from medical marijuana?
Yeah. Especially athletes that have had amputation later in life … they definitely use marijuana as a form of pain medicine.
Have you come across anyone whose treatments have been affected or has suffered due to marijuana being illegal?
Oh yeah, for example, my friend Andrew. After his snowboard injury he had to move back to Florida with his mom and they hadn't passed their medicinal marijuana laws yet. He used that to combat his pain because the stuff that they were prescribing for him had negative side effects. He knew from being an amputee already, even prior to his more recent snowboard injury, that weed helped him. But I think he had to go a year or so living in Florida until the laws passed.
My friend Evan was using marijuana medically for a long time and he stopped cold turkey when he found out he had the opportunity to compete in the Paralympics.
These people are given these great opportunities and even if the marijuana helps them, they're gonna do what they need to do. And from talking with Evan, for example, that was really his priority—honoring that opportunity and proving that he can compete in the Olympics without taking anything. And I believe that most potential para-athletes would feel and act the same way.
What are your feelings as far as marijuana in the adaptive/para community being performance enhancing versus a medical necessity? And do you think there should be a difference between the athletes and the para-athletes as far as what is allowed medicinally?
No, I think it should equal across the board. Able-bodied athletes, for lack of a better term, experience some really gnarly and debilitating injuries and benefit from medicinal marijuana too.
As to whether or not it is performance enhancing, I'm kind of on the fence about that. I advocate for weed obviously, but if it’s not possible to get an exemption or if they don’t change the rules regarding marijuana and competition, then, like I mentioned earlier, I'm the type of person that will abide by the rules because the opportunity and the bigger picture are worth it. But at the same time I feel they should look at it on a case-by-case basis, or if they considered a compromise—allowing a smaller amount in your system. Like if they can meet halfway with the athletes, that'd be pretty cool.
Matt Miller, professional skateboarder and co-founder of Miller Healer:
Tell me about Miller Healer and why you started it.
A long-time family friend who is a CBD guru saw me falling a lot in one of my skate videos and asked me what I did for pain management. I have always been natural—no taking pills, not even Advil. Us skaters, we just deal with the pain a lot of the time. So she let me try some CBD stuff and I definitely felt a difference, just not as much as I thought I would because it was a lower dose. So, together we came up with an extra strength version for athletes that's super effective —tested by athletes but designed for everyone. And that's how we came up with the idea for Miller Healer. We have topical products, like a push up stick and pretty much the best CBD patch out. We have edible gummies and a tincture as well.
Are you into smoking?
I definitely smoked here and there but I only liked the medicinal benefits. I'm not against it but I prefer CBD because it's non-psychoactive and I just feel right after using it, and seeing the amount of people CBD helps is why I started this.
How about the risks for athletes using CBD during competition? There’s the potential for THC to be present and show up on a drug test, right?
Yeah, they call it the Green Rush right now. There are so many new companies coming up and sometimes you just don't know what's in the products. There are a lot of companies that don't get lab tests, or that say they have a certain things in their products and don’t. But there are a lot of reputable companies out there and we are one of them. We spent the last four and a half months doing research and development making sure everything's done correctly and legit.
I'm sure the Olympics have a higher caliber of drug test too, but on a standard test, CBD might never show up as marijuana. But as far as the Olympic testing is concerned, I would recommend the topicals because that's the safest. If I were in the Olympics I would never want to risk that. We make these eight-hour time-release patches and a salve stick that are super good.
Do you consider THC to be performance enhancing in a competition?
I don’t think it’s performance enhancing. If there is a medical condition that would prevent an athlete from competing at their best, then I believe it should be allowed. I wouldn't recommend consuming cannabis while actually competing anyway, due to the psychoactive components. That's why I think CBD would be the best choice for competition since it has all the benefits while being non-psychoactive.
Especially the Olympics, man! You gotta represent for the country and you can't have little bruise or pain or something weird take you out, you know? And it’s great for is anxiety. You just feel better, you get back to your homeostasis form and feel top notch.
It also seems like this Green Rush is providing a new option for skateboarders as their careers wind down. Since weed is something they have been passionate about and enjoyed, like skateboarding, now it’s an industry and they can start a brand in or work in it. We've seen so many guys not have anything for themselves after skateboarding stops paying the bills.
Totally. I had opportunities to start a skateboard company, a hat company, like all these other things, but I always wanted to do something that helped people. Once this came about, all the stars aligned. We are sponsors for epilepsy day at Disneyland and things like that. The different range of people that CBD helps is amazing. Like you said, it's my new passion just like skating is always my passion, but it's dope that I'm doing something I don't mind staying up all night and working on for my business, because it's passion.
Also, realistically, skaters know day-to-day pain probably more than anyone. I know what works and what only kind of works. As a skateboarder or a professional athlete in general, you have understand skateboarding and that kind of pain to test the products and really know if they are going to work or not.
You want the people creating the products to have a high level of experience and authenticity.
Exactly. With our salve stick, patches and topicals, I've done so much research and development with all my pro friends who've hurt themselves. Yesterday I was with Kyle Walker and he was using the patches on his heel bruise. There's really been nothing for heel bruises in the world of skating thus far, and that's just one thing we deal with. These patches are actually working and helping people heal quicker. I've had skate doctors rub my heels out for three weeks straight trying to get rid of my heel bruises and the result was just more pain. Now I put these patches on or use the topicals and my body has natural receptors to heal itself.
Chase Webb, professional skateboarder:
Do you think skateboarding helped push marijuana to the point of normalization and eventually becoming legal? Seems like skateboarding and hip-hop have had a tremendous impact in that respect.
I feel like with time, everything becomes socially accepted. Pretty much every skater smokes weed, so maybe that did help. I just feel like everyone smokes weed nowadays. It's like a cigarette.
You just won a gold medal in X Games Real Street. Is it weird to think that you may not have been able to compete in that, much less win, had X Games been an Olympic sanctioned qualifying event and you could get randomly tested?
Definitely. But I would have quit smoking weed be a part of it. Like, I love smoking weed, but I’m not so dependent on it. If I've got to do something that's going to help you make some money or further your career, fuck it—I'm going to quit smoking weed.
Next month I’ll be in the Dew Tour and they drug test for that because it’s an official Olympic qualifier now. So I haven't smoked weed in more than a week. I’m basically using this as an opportunity to do my best, even though I'm not necessarily the most contest-type dude.
Did you attend any of the anti-doping education meetings?
Yeah, dude, last year at Street League in London. I got there and they wouldn't allow us to skate the course until we took this anti-doping class. And I had no idea that was even happening. The Olympics people had this whole PowerPoint thing set up and I was like, “What's the fuck is going on? Are we going to get drug tested?” Because I was definitely smoking weed that day! [Laughs].
But they were just getting everyone ready for it because this year is all the qualifying events. It was pretty funny being in that anti-doping class. All these questions are getting asked, like, “Are you allowed to take mushrooms?” It was so funny, dude.
Was it helpful in the sense that it taught you what you needed to know in case you want to compete?
Yeah, definitely. I learned about a lot of stuff. Like, if you have asthma, you're not even allowed to use an inhaler. Dude, I was tripping on that. How come you can't use your inhaler to breathe? Is putting too much oxygen in your lungs going to help you skate longer? I don't have asthma, but I know people that do and they're constantly hitting that fucking inhaler. That’s their medicine, you know?
How much did you used to smoke on an average day?
Depends. I live in Murietta, dude. So I’m by myself a lot, going to the skatepark and maybe smoking a couple times a day. But when you go on a trip or you're with mad homies and people are rolling up constantly, you can be smoking 20 or 30 joints a day. When I'm with the homies or on a trip, we're smoking a lot, dude.
Does smoking help your skating at all? With pain or nerves or fear? Or is it just enjoyable?
It’s more enjoyment for me, like a habit. Even now, I haven’t smoked in more than a week and I'm still skating every day—skating rails just fine. I don't really see weed as a beneficial thing to me. Maybe sometimes it could calm you down or help with anxiety, but when you're scared to do something, you're still going to be scared. Weed won’t take that nervousness away from you at all. I definitely don't think weed helps me perform any better as far as skating. But everyone's different.
What do you get when you're ride for Weedmaps as far as packages and product? I know you guys go on some pretty rad tours.
We definitely get hooked up with weed. It's not like getting a monthly box of wheels or boards from your sponsors though. You get it as you need it. Like medicine. If you need your medicine you hit them up or you could go to a clinic or they'll have it delivered and take care of you. It's pretty fucking cool, dude. In fact, it's pretty fucking cool to be able to hook up your friends with weed too. I like looking up the homies.
So I assume you're going to try your best at these contests and if you qualify for the Olympics, then you're down for that.
Every contest I go into, I'm going to try. I'm not the most confident, but I give it my all and fucking try, dude. That's for sure.
A couple of years ago, so many people were talking shit on the Olympics and the drug testing specifically and now you have tons of skaters entering the contests, taking things seriously. Some people like Chris Joslin have even quit smoking altogether I heard.
You just have to take it as an opportunity. And if you're not down for it then you don't have to be. It's cool that people like Chris, who smoked mad weed, are seeing this an opportunity to quit and I back that to the fullest. That takes some courage and discipline.
Allister Schultz, former pro snowboarder and cultivator/co-founder of Phantom Farms:
You were a pro snowboarder when the sport was en route to the Olympics in 1998 and marijuana wasn’t even close to legal like it is today. What was the sentiment within the industry and the snowboarding community at the time?
I was 17 or 18, and all through the '90's, smoking cannabis was part of the culture of snowboarding. When I used to go on trips all over the world—filming the biggest movies of the year—we'd bring a mason jar of weed and a bong and we'd get high and go build jumps and have a good time. That's just the way it was.
As more money came into the sport, some people started taking it more seriously and acting more professional, almost like a serious jock attitude. People had trainers and agents. People started doing yoga and stuff like that and snowboarding transitioned away from how it was cool to be a rebel; cool to be punk; cool to be hardcore—because of the Olympics, and a lot of us pushed back on that. A lot of really good people who I chilled with boycotted the Olympics. Some of the top guys in halfpipe wouldn't do 'em. Not just because of the weed, but because of the way everything became. I shouldn't say “corporate”, but you know what mean.
But anyone now who tells you it wouldn’t be their dream to be in the Olympics and win a gold medal is lying, because it would change your life forever.
Everything you're saying is exactly what's happening in skateboarding now, 20 years later.
When the first Olympics finally came for snowboarding; Ross Rebagliati [Canada] failed a drug test and was stripped of his gold medal. There are growing pains, but eventually you come out the other side of it and it's accepted for what it is. Like, it's cool to be someone like Shaun White and it's also cool to be some guy on the opposite end of the spectrum out there partying with his buddies or being the emo, skinny pants-wearing rail guy.
Now that athletes can use and get the benefits from the CBD during competition, do you feel it isn’t a big deal that THC is prohibited? Or do you believe that all of it should be allowed?
CBD becoming acceptable for athletes to use for recovery and pain relief is a great place to start. But other terpenoids and phytocannabinoids that are not just CBD, for instance, THCZ or THCB, CBC and CBN—these are all phytocannabinoids that have medicinal benefits as well. They just haven't been studied enough to be socially accepted like CBD has, but I think it's gonna happen soon.
For example, pinene is a major terpenoid in cannabis—in sativas. You know when you walk through a pine forest and you feel good; your head gets clear? In Japan they call it shinrin-yoku, which means “forest bathing.” People think it helps the short-term memory.
These types of things are in the process of being proven and I would vote to have it all be legal for people to use. Instead of giving the guys who’ve had knee surgeries oxycodone to heal up, it shouldn't be illegal for them to use something that has high myrcene in it to manage the pain so they don't get hooked on pills. I think everyone's in agreement that pills have completely destroyed how people view recovery and have destroyed people’s lives.
People aren't doing this for a money grab; they are doing it because it truly does help people. And now that cannabis has become more legally and federally accepted in all these states, more research can be done, which is great for a cannabis company like us who believes in organic and living soil, which brings out higher terpene profiles and we can breed more strains that are medically designed to help certain ailments.
Do you think THC is performance enhancing or decreasing?
I think it could be perceived either way. It would have to be a case-by-case basis, per sport. In the case of racecar drivers driving around a track, I’d say no. But something like snowboarding where you're by yourself on a halfpipe and it only has an effect on you; I think it should be acceptable. It's not a steroid.
Tell me about your transition from pro snowboarder to the cannabis business.
This is my thirtieth season growing. I've been snowboarding for about 35 years. The two always went hand-in-hand because snowboarding is such an artistic expression. It’s not like a team sport. It’s more about your perception of the lines you draw and the tricks you wanna do and how you do 'em and the way you grab and cannabis brings out artistic-ness in people and artists use it in all kinds of ways for that purpose.
I was always a plant enthusiast. Before I got into cannabis I had gardens, my parents always had flower and vegetable gardens, they still do. So I kind of just got into it and when my snowboarding career kind of ended, I had more time to spend growing.
Then cannabis went medically legal in Oregon, so you were allowed to grow it legally with a certain plant count. That's kind of the beginning of the path to where I am today.
Do you see the cannabis industry as new and exciting option for skateboarders, snowboarders and surfers once their careers are winding down? It seems to be something many are really passionate about, like you were, but easier to get into now that legalization is more common.
It’s a great opportunity for skateboarders/snowboarders to venture into for a couple reasons. One is that most guys have been using the CBD and cannabis products their entire careers or lives. They have first-hand knowledge of the benefits—experts really—and can articulate the benefits perfectly and believably because they are, or were, professional athletes at the highest level. I’d believe the testimony of Tony Hawk or Matt Miller on the benefits of CBD so much more than say, Martha Stewart or Montel Williams.
Secondly, as an extreme sports athlete, there is no retirement plan for you when you’re sponsors feel you are not marketable and not worth paying anymore. They use your services and spit you out when the next ripping young kid comes along. We all know this. We all got there in that same fashion—it just usually happens so suddenly and most are left wondering what to do. So it is amazing when guys can parlay their careers into another career that they are passionate about. I think business minds and corporate people are realizing how creative and artistic and business savvy (cause more often then not we had to negotiate our own deals and manage ourselves) extreme athletes are, and see the great opportunity in partnering with them. I know many ex-pro athletes that have gone on to start and run all kinds of really successful businesses, the cannabis/CBD one is just a really attainable one where it’s been so intertwined with snowboarding, skateboarding, and surfing culture, it’s great to see our athletes be successful in it. We deserve it.
Josh Friedberg, ex-professional skateboarder and CEO of USA Skateboarding, the National Governing Body for Skateboarding in the United States:
You’ve been part of the long and winding road to getting skateboarding into the Olympics. Knowing skateboarding is a subculture that has unapologetically embraced marijuana for decades, one of the jokes and concerns about the Olympics was always “Skateboarding will never be in there because no one will stop smoking weed or pass the tests.” How was that addressed early on?
Initially, like any other sport, subculture or group of people on the planet, there are people that smoke weed and people that don't. Obviously in skateboarding it’s more accepted to be public about it. Because of that, a lot of the knee-jerk reaction from the media, some of the governing bodies and a lot of skateboarders was, “Oh well, this will never work because too many people smoke weed!”
As you integrate a culture-based sport with the structure of the Olympic Games, it's really about getting people up to speed in terms of things like the anti-doping process and the national governing body structure. We were less concerned about whether or not people would want to participate and primarily concerned with trying to educate skateboarders about the anti-doping tests and ensue that they were prepared. So we did everything we could to give skateboarders at least a year of anti-doping education before any of the testing started at the sanctioned skateboarding events.
Have you seen an evolution of perception since the early days of no one believing it could work?
Absolutely, and I think a lot of that is based on the skaters becoming educated about what it meant for weed to be prohibited in competition and not out of competition. Also, the fact that WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) changed the acceptable limits for THC in the bloodstream—it increased significantly during their last code revision.
Were you surprised to see how many skaters were actually willing to participate, despite the fact that they may have been smokers? Some people are even quitting weed altogether, not just for the season.
I’m not surprised at all. When you're looking at a recreational drug like weed and then looking at what your career could be if you qualify to skate in the Olympic Games for your country, I don't think it's that tough of a choice at all.
To me, one of the best things about skateboarding is that people can make that choice. There's a strict competition career path and there's always been a chance become a professional skateboarder without ever entering a contest in your life. That diversity and freedom to pursue the path you want is one of the things that makes skateboarding great.
What about therapeutic use exemptions, even for say, Paralympic skaters down the line if it becomes an event in the Games?
My understanding is that therapeutic use exemptions typically aren’t offered for weed. And hopefully that'll change because with weed becoming legal in many states and countries, the thinking around what is or isn’t prohibited when it comes to weed continues to evolve and could completely change to make it less restrictive.
The thing about performance enhancing drugs in skateboarding, which is really what anti-doping is trying to prevent, is creating a level playing field so that one athlete doesn't have an advantage that the other. With a lot of sports, you're racing a clock or another human or you're lifting heavy weights—there are definitely sports where doping is an advantage and will continue to be a challenge to regulate. But in skateboarding, being stronger doesn't necessarily make you a better skateboarder and things like being judged on style, for example, make it less likely that skateboarding will have a performance-enhancing drug issue.
We're going to be a part of the Clean Athlete Program, as opposed to the Registered Testing Pool at USADA where the athletes have to give their whereabouts every day. In the Clean Athlete Program, skaters are still subject to the WADA code, but they'll have to give whereabouts twice a year, so it’s much less paperwork and will be way easier for our skateboarders to deal with.
As a skateboarder, what was it like seeing Cory Juneau be the first skater/athlete to be suspended for marijuana?
Cory's suspension was super disappointing mainly because the Brazilian anti-doping agency tested him at an unsanctioned event. There was no reason for that event to be tested. It didn't even make any sense. And they sprung it on him early in the education process, before many of those guys had a chance to even attend anti-doping meetings. So the fact that somebody tested positive for weed, before they had been educated, sort of proves our point. We were concerned with giving skaters a fair chance to understand what was going on and then for whatever reason, in Brazil, at this random event, they decided to drug test.
Even though he wasn’t a member of USA Skateboarding at the time, we actually spent some time trying to help Cory with that situation. It was just one of those things that never should've even happened and I hope that that's why his suspension didn’t have any actual impact on Olympic qualification.
With CBD being a non-issue and seeing those THC bloodstream levels increased, do you view this progression a possible pathway to marijuana one day being removed from the list of prohibited substances?
I hope that's the path, but I can't speak for WADA. It was a good sign that they at least raised the THC levels. The issue with weed and THC in general is that it leaves everyone's body different rates and you're not able to predict that. It's not like other drugs that are in and out of your system in a couple days. So, them recognizing that's the case and trying to find a solution is a good first step.
The issue with CBD is that it’s not FDA regulated. So, you don't ever know if there's THC in it or not, regardless of what the labels say. That's the problem with supplements—the industry isn't FDA regulated so they can literally put anything they want on the label and they can literally put anything they want in the supplement. So, I think figuring out how to regulate CBD in a way that allows people to continue to use it without adverse analytical findings is the right thing to do.