The 420 Games Encourage Health-Conscious Cannabis Culture

Everyone wears the same race number at the 420 Games: 420.
Everyone wears the same race number at the 420 Games: 420.
Larry Gassan

Early Saturday morning, more than 1,000 people — from moms pushing strollers to Spandex-clad marathon runners — are expected to gather at the Santa Monica Pier for a 4.20-mile run. The course’s length — a not-so-subtle nod to the cannabis code, 420 — seems apt for the second annual 420 Games, a fitness-focused event intended to show that cannabis doesn’t breed laziness, and that it can be an effective complement to a healthy, active lifestyle.

Imagine the stereotypical “stoner event," with a thick haze of smoke, an abundance of tie-dye and dreadlocks, and a whole lot of weed, says 420 Games founder Jim McAlpine. “It’s the exact opposite of that,” he says. “If you were walking by, it’d look like a 5K run, not a marijuana event. There’s very little traditional stoner stuff.”

In fact, McAlpine has a strict rule against smoking or vaping at the event (although policing edibles may be a little tougher). There will be plenty of cannabis companies handing out goodies to the 21-and-over set, but these are all intended to be consumed off-site.

Even the event’s start time of 8 a.m. seems counterintuitive to cannabis culture, but that’s just the point. A growing wellness movement is attempting to separate marijuana from the munchies, and through the increasingly popular technique of micro-dosing and the proliferation of weed strains that work as appetite suppressants, marijuana is being incorporated into healthy, everyday use.

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Cannabis culture is at a crossroads. With the recent passage of Measure M, which paves the way for recreational marijuana shops in L.A. next year, the cannabis industry will become a much more ubiquitous part of our urban landscape. This expanded presence has already shifted the demographics of people who use the various incarnations of pot. Some of the fastest-growing groups consuming marijuana products are seniors older than 55, according to new research from the Centers for Disease Control. Then there's the high-end, members-only cannabis clubs, where fancy weed is available to a discerning crowd.    

The whole system of marketing cannabis to textbook “stoners” is off-base, McAlpine says. Most people who use marijuana today are moms, athletes and regular people,  who eat well, are health-conscious and simply want to incorporate cannabis into their lifestyle in an unabashed way. “There were, and are still, millions of people living in the cannabis closet,” he says.

The crowd at this year’s 420 Games is expected to double from its inaugural year in 2016, McAlpine says, and participants include professional runners and athletes, seniors and families trying to teach their kids that cannabis is a medicine, not a drug. Last year’s race winner was an Olympic Marathon trial runner.

The event starts with a yoga warmup and is followed by a run that kicks off at 9 a.m. The event is led by marathon runners, followed by a staggered start of NFL players and other pro athletes, recreational runners and, finally, bicyclists, moms with strollers and skateboarders. The route heads south along Ocean Front Walk to Venice before turning around and heading back to the Santa Monica Pier.

“Everyone wears the same number, it’s 420,” McAlpine says.

Once the hard work is over, participants can listen to former pro football players — like Boo Williams of the New Orleans Saints and Nate Jackson of the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos — talk about why cannabis is important to sports. The rest of the afternoon includes live music, beer tasting and performances by X Games skaters and BMX bikers.

The race is more of a "fun run" with participants ranging from marathon runners to walkers and skateboarders.
The race is more of a "fun run" with participants ranging from marathon runners to walkers and skateboarders.
Larry Gassan

L.A. is just the first stop on the 420 Games tour of 2017. From here, the event heads to Seattle and Portland, Oregon, then two stops in Denver, followed by San Francisco, Phoenix and Las Vegas.

Although McAlpine now pours his energy into promoting cannabis use in a health and wellness context, he couldn’t be open about this consumption until a few years ago. The creator and former CEO of SnowBomb, a website that produced the first e-ticket for ski slopes, McAlpine says that even though he was the boss of the company, clients may have fired him if they knew he used marijuana.

So about two and a half years ago, he decided to make a change.

“I went and got really high at my house in Tahoe, and it just struck me this was my calling,” he says via email to L.A. Weekly.

Now living in Northern California’s Marin County, McAlpine is opening the self-proclaimed “world’s first” cannabis gym in San Francisco later this year. Power Plant Fitness, which will allow members to consume cannabis either before or after a workout, will employ trainers who can not only get you yoked but also teach you how to integrate cannabis into daily health.

McAlpine recommends users consume cannabis through edibles, oils or the like, instead of sparking up a joint, or even inhaling through a vaporizer.

“Smoking’s not good for your lungs, we all know that,” he says.

Jim McAlpine is the founder and organizer of 420 Games, and the owner of Power Plant Fitness, a soon-to-be-open "cannabis gym" in San Francisco.
Jim McAlpine is the founder and organizer of 420 Games, and the owner of Power Plant Fitness, a soon-to-be-open "cannabis gym" in San Francisco.
Courtesy 420 Games

Prior to the gym’s debut, Power Plant is flexing its training muscles by hosting boot camps, currently scheduled for California and Colorado. Now, McAlpine has his sights set on L.A., and actually visited two buildings in the Venice area as possible sites for his next Power Plant gym. He says that since L.A. passed Measure M — ushering in a system of taxation for the cannabis industry and opening the door to local regulation — he looks forward to regulation, but hopes the rules are “diverse and open” to create a more level playing field.

Each day since he’s been in L.A., McAlpine has been running the course of Saturday’s 420 Games run, and says the people in Santa Monica are some of the most fit he’s ever seen. Marijuana use is forever ingrained in the city’s beach, surf and skate culture, he says, stretching back to the days of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who used to smoke before he lifted weights at Gold’s Gym.

“It’s just always been part of the L.A. fitness lifestyle, but not many talk about it,” McAlpine says via email. “They will now!”


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