In many ways, the social stigma that plagues marijuana use is a product of bad branding. From Cheech and Chong to The Big Lebowski, to Pineapple Express, generations of stoner movies have typecast marijuana enthusiasts as lazy, stupid (if well-intentioned) slackers in the popular imagination. The obvious irony is that weed, more than alcohol, is often the drug of choice for high-level athletes and academics alike, from Michael Phelps, widely regarded as the most decorated Olympian of all time, to the late David Foster Wallace, a literary savant of towering genius.
Unfortunately, the lazy-stoner stigma makes the plant difficult to legalize in a country where stuffy old white guys preside over the nation’s drug laws. This makes life difficult, not only for the average cannabis fan but for those who desperately need medical intervention, from opioid addicts to NFL superstars suffering from chronic head trauma.
What might the world look like if weed enthusiasts were given more accurate public representation? This is one of the questions that The 420 Games—or The Weed Olympics—is trying to answer.
The Weed Olympics got its start in the jogger-laden streets of San Francisco, the brainchild of Jim McAlpine. “I wanted to kill the stigma of cannabis and the people that use it in a new and unique way,” McAlpine told HERB. “It became clear to me that using athletics was something no one was doing and it was a new way to push the message that cannabis users are not all ‘stoners’ and actually most are normal, healthy and fit people.”
Slowly but surely, the Weed Olympics are becoming a nationally recognized event. In 2016, the games were adopted in cities across the western United States, to cities like Seattle, Los Angeles, Portland, and Denver. Now, seven cities officially host the Weed Olympics.
Aligning itself with the long tradition of cannabis users, competitors in the Weed Olympics are challenged to a 4.20-mile race. And unlike conventional races, competitors are all given the same number on their race bib (again, 420.) But besides the usual mores of weed culture, the games offer a very real competition, and the chance to take home a grand prize: the winner takes home a $500 gift card which can be used to have weed delivered to one’s doorstep.
Other games like kickball, and extreme sports like BMX, are also on the roster. “I have also been an athlete who used cannabis his whole life and was tired of living ‘in the closet,'” said McAlpine. “[I] wanted to give all of us CannAthletes a chance to share our lifestyle and help teach others how cannabis can be a benefit to athletes.”
To those who already use marijuana, the fact that cannabis can be used to bolster athletics isn’t entirely surprising. Many use marijuana to get in the zone before a workout. Others use it as a way to speed up their recovery after enduring a sports injury. Despite generations of lazy-stoner branding, marijuana remains a staple for countless Americans looking to push themselves athletically. And this is precisely what the Weed Olympics hopes to broadcast to the world.
Although most competitors tend to smoke before the games begin, the Weed Olympics are open to everybody. One year’s winner, a female nurse named Marissa Diaz, doesn’t smoke but participated in the games to promote medical marijuana and support the cause of reversing stoner-stereotypes.
Although the games’ organizers have had difficulty in securing permits in the past, a wave of legalization for recreational marijuana in states like California will undoubtedly open up new doors for the Weed Olympics. McAlpine hopes to expand the games not only within the United States, but also internationally, in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.
“As it becomes legal nationally we need to have a new perception of the plant.” Says McAlpine. “Both in general but also for kids. It’s not a drug. It’s medicine.” McAlpine says he’s even “conducted a panel on ‘Cannabis As An Alternative To Opiates’ to a packed room of hundreds of physicians at Harvard Medical School.” Clearly, with the help of those like McAlpine, attitudes about marijuana are slowly changing.
Not only does legalization mean a chance for the games to expand to new states, but proponents of the Weed Olympics like to think that the reverse is also true. As the Weed Olympics continues to showcase the real face of marijuana enthusiasts everywhere—in all their ambitious and athletic glory—maybe some lawmakers can be convinced to break with the past, and legalize marijuana in their home states too.