Jim McAlpine, is a name that circulates around California’s cannabis industry with high frequency. Jim is founder of The 420 Games and most recently the cannabis technology event called New West Summit, which was held in San Francisco this past November. The 420 Games is a popular athletics, cannabis-based event that started in San Francisco and is now spreading to other parts of the country. Jim states that the goal of The 420 Games is to ‘eradicate the false stereotypes that hinder millions of successful and motivated people. We want to afford people the choice and ability to responsibly use cannabis as a supplement without fear of prosecution and judgement.’
The first 420 Games was a 5k race held in late 2014, which incorporated a couple hundred people who came together to run and promote a healthier image of cannabis. As Jim says ‘Many people have felt ashamed about their use of cannabis or that they need to hide it. The fact is you can have a very healthy lifestyle, be athletic and use cannabis to support yourself in a variety of ways. The 420 Games was created for people to ‘come out of the closet’, if you will, in a positive and supportive environment. Ultimately, we want to alter negative perceptions of cannabis use and replace that with an uplifting image more related to health and wellness.’
The 420 Games has become a run away success, no pun intended. This year, the 420 Games expects upwards of 5,000 people to participate in their San Francisco event alone. Many more events are planned for Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Boulder and Denver. Visiting The 420 Games Facebook page, you will see almost 60,000 ‘likes’. Jim is a gregarious, affable guy who has made it his business to get to know just about everyone in the industry. When you talk to him, it is obvious that he is passionate, viewing the cannabis ecosystem as an ever-growing community of both industry folks and patients alike. His mission is to help bring cannabis into the light and to shed the stigma associated with its use, while at the same time giving people a positive platform in which to come forward freely.
What was your inspiration for starting The 420 Games?
For many years I lived in Tahoe, where I founded a tech startup called Snow Bomb. We were the first company in the world to do online ticketing in the snow industry. We were very successful in this arena, but in order for us to continue to succeed, we needed snow. As most people know, for the last four years in Tahoe, there has been almost no snow.
So in late 2013/early 2014 I told my wife I was going to go up to Tahoe for a few days and lock myself in my cabin until I thought up a new business. I packed my bag, brought some medical marijuana, and set up shop in my living room, where I waited for an idea to arrive. Sitting down on the couch that evening, the first thing I saw on TV was a vice special, which was called ‘Green Rush’. It was about the booming cannabis industry and how people were making a healthy living off of legalized cannabis. I was about to smoke some marijuana, to spur creativity, but the light bulb went off for me almost immediately.
How it happened that quickly, I am not sure. What came to me is this; I have been a serious athlete and used cannabis in a positive way for a good portion of my life, and that is something I wanted to share with others. As an athlete, cannabis helps keep me focused, at the gym longer and in some ways allows me to obtain my goals more easily. It does not make me lazy or cause me to not show up for practice; in fact, it does just the opposite. Also, within the ski industry, I saw how cannabis goes hand in hand with the snow based athletic lifestyle, mostly in a positive way. In my own heart and mind I saw a connection of how cannabis and a healthy lifestyle could be linked together.
To start a new business I had to think about how I could fit within the cannabis industry, and at the time I was a complete newbie. I was not going to get into distribution or growing, so the obvious answer was to play off my strengths, which in many ways is throwing community-building industry events. Boom, right there in that moment, events and athleticism seemed like a natural fit to me. On my couch that night, I knew I would throw the first athletics-based cannabis event.
When was the first 420 Games event held and what happened there?
Our first race was held in Golden Gate Park in August of 2014. There was an amazing vibe among the people who came and participated. You could really tell people were excited for this event to be happening. I guess my biggest trepidation was that I would throw this event and a bunch of stoners would show up, which is fine, but what I was going for was healthy lifestyle and athleticism. When real athletes actually showed up, I knew I was onto something big, and that this community really exists. Thankfully, everyone who showed up understood the mission and felt connected to it in some way.
Can you describe the type of people that show up at The 420 Games?
From my experience so far, there are a lot of people who have become involved because this is an outlet for them to show that you can both use cannabis and be a successful athlete. People were very grateful to be given the opportunity to ‘come out of the closet’, as I like to say. Also, I find that about 20% of the people that show up are cannabis sympathizers. They may have someone in their life who uses cannabis medicinally or be pro legalization. There are many people who come who want to support others in their lifestyle choices. It is somewhat akin to heterosexual people who show up at a gay rally to support friends or family.
I think the common thread with everyone though, without a doubt, is a love of athleticism. My sister-in-law, who has never used cannabis, came to support me and actually won the race. A lot of the participants have used cannabis for a long time in their life, often in combination with work outs.
If someone shows up at a 420 Games what should they expect?
From the outside we want our 420 events to look like any other 5k, 10k race or marathon that athletes attend. It is a sports event first that happens to advocate cannabis use. You show up for the race early, you register and you will see a lot of other people getting ready, stretching and hydrating. We offer healthy food like granola, yogurt and bananas to the participants before the race begins. People line up for the race, we shoot the gun and everyone is off. We do award winners at the end of the race, but it is really about being active and finishing the race, whether you choose to walk or run. We really put an emphasis on finishing the race.
This is also a family friendly event, and we ask that no one smokes cannabis at the event. It is fine to be medicated, but we ask participants to do that before coming to the race; we want all participants to be comfortable with the atmosphere. We have whole families that participate together and even my young daughters finished the race this last time. We are trying to change perceptions of cannabis and a cloud of smoke really does not do much for us! So far, almost everyone has respected this.
At the end of the race, everyone has a huge sense of accomplishment and camaraderie. Everyone is high-fiving and a lot of pats on the back all around. After the race we have about 2 hours of education with guest speakers. We also curate positive and conscious music into the event and only choose musical acts that are life positive. Anyone who finishes the race who is over 21 is welcomed into our beer garden, which is hosted by Lagunitas, for free beer. A community feeling is highly encouraged and we wrap up the event with a real feeling togetherness.
You like to use the term ‘coming out of the closet.’ In the case of The 420 Games, do you feel like some people are showing up for the first time to be ‘out of the closet’?
Absolutely, yes! In many ways, if you are a healthy, well-adjusted individual, this type of event is one of the easiest ways to announce your own cannabis use to the people around you. I have found that many people have been looking for a group to associate with where they don’t need to feel ashamed of their lifestyle. It is not that long ago that cannabis use was almost completely frowned upon, so this is a big step for many people.
For myself, I am completely out of the closet at this point. In my own declaration, and with The 420 Games, I want to be that first guy who makes it easier for the next guy or woman. Many people have had such negative associations placed in their head and we want to replace that with a positive message, so that they can go forward and help change other people’s perceptions.
Have you had any negative push back on hosting The 420 Games?
We have had very little honestly. The San Francisco police department has been so supportive. There has now been enough positive press too, so generally everyone has been very accepting.
How many events have you done and where can people find the next The 420 Games?
We were solely in California last year but we are moving into several more states this year, which is exciting. In California we have done 5 events so far including several runs, a paddle board race and a golf tournament. In 2016 we will be in California in both San Francisco and Los Angeles. In Colorado we will be in both Denver and Boulder. In Washington we will be in Seattle and in Oregon we will be hosting an event in Portland.
If someone wants to compete and join the fun, the best way to find out about more events is through our website the420games.org. We also have a very active Facebook presence, which can keep you abreast. We welcome new sponsors as well, especially companies that focus on health and wellness like HelloMD. We want to partner with professional, health and wellness partners who ideally also involved in cannabis.
Is there anything else you would like to add regarding The 420 Games?
You can be an athlete and if you use cannabis it does not mean you are not stupid or lazy. The person defines who they are, the plant does not define who the person is. We hope to see you at one of the next 420 Games!