An Interview with 420 Games Founder Jim McAlpine

By Jon Young

An Interview with 420 Games Founder Jim McAlpine

Jim McAlpine is a husband and father of two, an active long-distance swimmer, athlete and successful entrepreneur. He's also a fan of cannabis.

"I'm a lifetime cannabis enthusiast and user," says McAlpine. "We're not lazy, we’re not stupid and the word ‘stoner’ does not classify who we are."

After spending 19 years running SnowBomb, a Tahoe-based ski and snowboard company, McAlpine was driven to make some drastic changes after snow failed to materialize three years in a row due to the drought that has been wreaking havoc in much of California. Without snow, his business dried up, and he had a family to support, so he did what he had to—what anyone in his situation would do. He went on a vision quest.

"I told my wife, I'm going on a vision quest," McAlpine recalls. "I'm going to our house in Lake Tahoe, I'm bringing a bag of weed, a water pipe and I'm not coming back until I come up with an idea for a new company."The first night at around 11 p.m. his quest was met by an episode of Vice News that covered the legalization of marijuana. "It slapped me across the face," continues McAlpine. The show sparked a series of ideas in his mind centering on the booming cannabis industry. This was an opportunity. He had the passion, the motivation and the experience. And soon after his return home, the 420 Games were born.

The 420 Games are a series of different races, sports and activities like runs, golf tournaments and stand-up paddleboarding that are generally 4.20 miles long with an aim to challenge the public's perception of cannabis users as lazy couch potatoes lacking motivation. While the name indicates a close relationship to cannabis—with 420 long being the calling card for a smoking session and now an international holiday on April 20—McAlpine doesn’t encourage smoking at the events and cautions participants on the official website, “If you choose to use marijuana before, during or after our events, please make sure to do so discretely, legally and respectfully.”

"The events are about the athletes before cannabis," he explains. "Dress athletically and leave the stoner stuff at home."

To prove his point, McAlpine refers to top-tier professional athletes, such as retired MMA fighter Kyle Kingsbury and olympic gold-medalist snowboarder Ross Rebagliati, who are participants and advocates for the 420 Games, with Rebagliati attempting to expand the Games to Canada.

"We can use athleticism to destigmatize and reshape how a cannabis user is viewed in our society," McAlpine states. "It's a great time to make the world aware that cannabis can be a beneficial supplement to an athlete."

Events are family-friendly and using cannabis at the events is not encouraged. Think Mothers Against Drunk Driving rather than a stoner “smoke-in.”

A typical 420 Games event includes breakfast, a commemorative t-shirt, race entry, a two-hour post-race beer garden courtesy of Lagunitas (a major sponsor of the 420 Games), followed by a concert often headlined by nationally recognized bands, all for between $40 and $60.

Though he believes cannabis can be beneficial to athletes, he by no means believes it is beneficial to all athletes, and only about half of the participants partake in cannabis before the race.

"Cannabis can affect people completely differently," he says. "Not everybody should use it." He went on to say that one should know how it affects them personally before trying to use it to boost performance. While it helps him focus on his long-distance swims, to another it could be catastrophic in a similar situation.

"I fall into the minority," he admits. "I have an ADD personality. In college [at Boulder] I had to smoke weed to write a term paper, to go to class and be able to focus."

While he uses cannabis to boost his focus, he says most use it as a recovery aid, to relax and soothe sore muscles after an event.

When asked if the 420 Games are politically motivated in advance of a crucial series of upcoming elections and potential policy change, he said, simply, no. "We're obviously pro-legalization," he explains, "but we're not political. We're just focused on promoting healthy and responsible cannabis use."

Leading to McAlpine's secondary motivation for these events. McAlpine founded a non-profit foundation called Progressive, Responsible Individuals for Marijuana Education, or PRIME. Its goal is to create new curriculum for children that, according to McAlpine, would do away with the "just say no" propaganda. It aims to give youth factual information that will not only promote abstaining from cannabis until the legal age, but will also get rid of negative stereotypes and promote responsible use without judgement.  

"I have a three- and a six-year-old," he says, "and I'm tired of witnessing them learn false propaganda that is absolute lies and bullshit. [PRIME] is about educating adults as well as the youth—setting a new foundation for drug education."

The 420 Games, which were originally just in California, have since expanded to additional states. Upcoming events include Los Angeles on April 1, Seattle on May 28, Portland on June 10, Denver on July 22, Boulder on July 23 and San Francisco on August 26 (with Phoenix and Las Vegas coming in the fall). But, McAlpine says, emails have been pouring in from states like Texas, Arkansas and Florida, all states where recreational cannabis is illegal, begging him to bring the 420 Games to their states.

“As a businessman, I want [the 420 Games] to be successful and worthwhile,” he said. “But I care a lot about the cause. Almost too much.”

Through athleticism, he mentioned, the 420 Games can set benchmarks for morality and ethics by doing it responsibly and emphasizing education.

“The truly impactful, world-changing stuff is when we can get to Texas,” he enthuses. “The states where you can go to jail if you have a joint in your car.” All this by 2017, he assures me.

In the meantime, McAlpine has been blown away by all the support the 420 Games has received, even from his wife’s 91-year-old grandmother. And in just six months, its Facebook page has received more than 60,000 “Likes.” That number is now closing in on 200,000. 

"It’s viral. It shows the heart behind all of this,” he concludes. “The Games are striking a chord with a lot of people.”

Photo credit: 420 Games (main and story). 

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