In 420 Games, Athletes Outpace Cannabis Stigma

The setting couldn’t be more ideal this mid-May morning in San Jose’s vast Hellyer Park as the 500 or so runners form a pack at the starting line. The temperature is in the low 60s and there’s a slight wind coming out of the west-northwest, really not much of a concern to the entrants.

At first glance, this appears to be just another race, maybe a 5K or a 10K.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, here in the northern part of the 354-acre park, amid nature trails and surrounded by rolling hills underneath blue skies dotted with clouds, the runners lined up are taking part in what could perhaps best be described as an ongoing journey to change perceptions and make history.

They are here as part of the 420 Games, a series of Olympic-style events designed both to promote the benefits of responsible cannabis consumption and knock down once and for all the negative stereotypes that stick to marijuana like a magnet to steel.

Today the runners are taking part in a 4.2-mile race. Other events in coming weeks will include a paddle-board race in Lake Tahoe on July 18, a 4.2-mile Fun Run in San Francisco on Aug. 15 and a 26-mile Cruiser bike race in Orange County, Calif., on Sept. 12.

The idea is not just to de-stigmatize marijuana use, but to increase its legitimacy from a business standpoint by attracting sponsors to events like these, and investors to the fast-growing cannabis industry.

“This is just one effort (of many) to smash the ‘stoner’ stereotype and communicate the truth,” said Andrew DeAngelo, Director of Operations for Harborside Health Center, a medical cannabis dispensary and wellness center with locations in Oakland and San Jose, California, and one of a half-dozen sponsors of the Games.

“World class athletes and everyday athletes as well use cannabis as a form of recovery. In fact, when used topically it helps as an anti-inflammatory. I can make the case that, when used topically, it’s not any different than using Tylenol,” he said.

“It’s not a performance-enhancing drug.  It’s really a substance to help reduce swelling and to help us to achieve more consistent performances.”

As for the event itself, DeAngelo was seemingly quite pleased with the way it turned out. For starters, there were in his approximation more than double the number of participants that attended 2014’s inaugural 5K walk/run at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park last September.

“We still have a long way to go,” DeAngelo said. “The Games are starting up slowly, which I think is smart. It has a good chance to be a really important event. I think maybe five years from now we might start seeing Olympic athletes participating. (But now) it’s more about just finishing the race.”

DeAngelo was quick to point out another important aspect of the event. Even though the 420 Games are intended as a showcase to strike down stereotypes and showcase athletes who use marijuana, there was no one smoking before, during or after the race.

“Of course it’s still illegal to consume marijuana in public,” he said.

As events like the 420 Games grow in popularity and exposure, however, the time may not be so far off that the drug’s negative stereotypes will fall by the wayside and be viewed from the perspective of increased legitimacy.

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