When Jim McAlpine founded the 420 Games in California last year, as part of his mission to get rid of the lazy stoner image, he had no idea how then how popular the event would become. In a short time, medicated athletes and celebrities alike came out to help stamp out the stigma placed on marijuana users.

McAlpine, who uses cannabis as medicine for his attention deficit disorder (ADD), said the plant has always allowed him to put his mind in a place where he can focus on the activity at hand.

“Whether I’m at the gym, in the pool, or riding a bike, cannabis helps keep me doing whatever I may be engaged in for a longer period of time,” he says. “And more importantly, it makes everything more fun. I actually forget about the pain and stress of working out after medicating with cannabis.”

McAlpine, who also founded the successful San Francisco Ski & Snowboard Festival and the New West Summit, a cannabis industry conference in San Francisco, said he created the Games to change the perception of cannabis and the stereotype of those who use it for athletics. A team of former professional athletes and National Football League stars regularly help McAlpine pump up the crowds and tell their stories.

Raised in northern California, McAlpine grew up in Atherton, California, but now makes his home with his wife and kids in Marin County, just across the bay from San Francisco. He said he first used cannabis in college—not to get high, but to focus.

“Cannabis kept my mind right to write papers in college,” says McAlpine. “It was how I motivated myself to work and go to the gym. I realized it was my substitute for drugs like Ritalin for my diagnosed ADD; and it helped me focus as an athlete. I realized I used cannabis as a wellness tool, even then.”

His hopes for the 420 Games are grand, envisioning a global takeover, if you will, for the greater good.

“I’d like to keep growing the Games and scale it into a massive, global event—like Tough Mudder or Spartan Race,” he says. “I’d also like to bring it to conservative states like Tennessee and Texas, states that are less progressive, where we can really help to move the needle toward positive change.”

420 Games in Los Angeles

The starting line of the 4.2-mile run along the Pacific Ocean from Santa Monica to Venice Beach and back in early April had hundreds of toned, healthy-looking athletes stretching, warming up with yoga, and medicating (outside the venue) before the run.

Ironically, due to the venue sitting squarely in a state park zone, there was no partaking of cannabis at the event.

“It’s always so nice to see everyone obey the rules and get the mission we are out to achieve,” says McAlpine. “If someone lights up inside the event there are tons of people around saying, ‘come on, man, just go outside the event to take a toke.’ It’s a very respectful atmosphere, and that makes me proud.”

The Santa Monica Police Department were on hand, just in case, but the Los Angeles 420 Games concluded without a hint of trouble, and the police in attendance were dubbed “Santa Monica’s finest,” a nod to a favorite weed slogan.

“The Santa Monica Police and the narcotics task force of Los Angeles were both great to work with,” says McAlpine. “They were all good people who treated us equally to anyone else. I was very pleased to find how cool and accepting they were, both before and after the event, and have nothing but good things to say.”

An Interview with Jim McAlpine: Clearing the Air on Cannabis

Cancer patient Sophie Ryan and Jim McAlpine. Photo by Sharon Letts

Athletes and Patients Defending the Plant

Former NFL player Kyle Turley (New Orleans Saints, St. Louis Rams, Kansas City Chiefs) took to the stage after the race to share his own stories of healing. Turley was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at 34, with a black spot on his brain from 10 years of constant concussions playing professional football. After being consumed with prescription pain meds and outbursts to his family, Turley switched from pharma to cannabis.

His success in the transition inspired him to create his own strain, Saint Jack, a hybrid from his favorite strain, Jack Herer, named after an equally inspirational activist. After founding Gridiron Foundation, in support of fellow athletes, Turley also launched CBD oil company Neuro Armor, demonstrating the plant’s neuroprotectant properties (as detailed in US Patent No. 6630507 on CBD, the non-psychoactive cannabinoids found in hemp and cannabis).

Another former NFL all-star, Reggie Williams (Jacksonville Jaguars, Seattle Seahawks), shared his story of switching from painkillers to cannabis, after myriad surgeries turned his leg into an unrecognizable mass of scars, left it several inches shorter, and rendered him disabled for life. He, too, is now on the cannabis wellness wagon as pitchman for Pure Ratios, a CBD oil company that makes chewable tablets and oils.

An Interview with Jim McAlpine: Clearing the Air on Cannabis

Former NFL player Kyle Turley (right) and MC "Medicinal Mike" (left) help pump up the crowd. Photo by Sharon Letts.

Lastly, Eben Britton (Jacksonville Jaguars, Chicago Bears) took the stage to address the crowd, sharing that he had never had a good experience with prescription pain killers—and now uses cannabis for both pain and emotional healing. Eben has openly admitted to playing in the NFL while high, something Turley confirmed takes place in the locker room regularly before games, with Eben stating that some of his best games were played while medicated.

“It’s been amazing to have professional athletes now calling me to get on board for the games,” says McAlpine. “I’ve had Hall of Fame athletes in multiple sports asking how they can be part of this mission to educate on cannabis and sports.”

Changing Image of Cannabis

“I love having the 420 Games in LA,” says McAlpine. “Particularly so that my kids can see and perceive cannabis as something very positive for society, and not a street drug that stoners use. My kids know, just like with alcohol or coffee, that cannabis is not for kids, only for adults, unless of course the child has doctor’s approval for a certain illness, like epilepsy or cancer. I am proud to be teaching them from a positive perspective, and not with scare tactics, like the ‘Just Say No’ campaign from the 1980s.”

Aside from medicated, healthy participants attending the Games, McAlpine has been pleased to see so many high-profile athletes come out to support cannabis and sports.

“There were so many athletes hiding their cannabis use,” says McAlpine. “I think the Games have helped them come out of the canna-closet in a way that works for them. We get emails from people around the country thanking us and asking us to come to their state. It’s been extremely rewarding.”

"Listening to advocates gives me hope of finally doing away with the lazy, stoner image for people like me, who medicate for all the right reasons.”

Power Plant Fitness

There is another cornerstone to McAlpine’s plan. Of McAlpine’s many projects, his most ambitious project to date is a goal of opening the first cannabis-friendly gym in Los Angeles.

“Power Plant Fitness has been a dream of mine since I was 18 years old,” he said. “We have had some bumps in the road in terms of location, but things are on track to be open by the end of 2017 or early 2018. We are still in the process of raising funds, and that is the least-fun part.”

McAlpine said he and his team are close to ending the current round for investors, but welcome additional capital and anyone interested in partnering.

“When President Trump was elected to office, most of the verbally committed funds from traditional groups backed off, due to the uncertainty with cannabis within the current administration, and particularly with Attorney General Jeff Sessions,” he added.

An Interview with Jim McAlpine: Clearing the Air on Cannabis

Photo by Mark Rutherford/Stock Pot Images

Uncertainty or not, the future of cannabis in the United States and beyond looks bright, with the latest Quinnipiac poll showing 93 percent of Americans are on board to legalize cannabis as medicine as a country, and 71 percent opposing continued federal persecution.

“What has helped the most in changing the perception of the games are the moving and strong messages from the athletes now coming forward,” says McAlpine.

“It’s easy to see that they are strong, athletic men, but to watch them speak and see how articulate and intelligent they are, has been really fun for me to see. Listening to advocates…gives me hope of finally doing away with the lazy, stoner image for people like me, who medicate for all the right reasons.”

Future 420 Games are planned in Denver, Boulder, San Francisco, Phoenix, and Las Vegas.

An Interview with Jim McAlpine: Clearing the Air on Cannabis

Photo by Mark Rutherford/Stock Pot Images