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Marijuana advocates hold fun run in Santa Monica to dispel stereotypes

The first annual 420 Games fun run in Santa Monica started a half-hour late.

The leader of the pack threw up his hands at the two-mile mark, confused about where he was supposed to turn on the course. And the eventual winner got lost on his way to the finish line, running in from behind the crowd waiting to cheer his victory.

“Typical stoners,” the winner, Chris Barnicle, joked before dozens of participants took off about 10 a.m. The 4.2 mile fun run — which included runners as well as cyclists and skaters — followed the bike path between the Santa Monica and Venice piers.

Jokes aside, the Saturday event is part of a larger effort to wipe away the “lazy stoner” stereotype, as laws governing medical and recreational cannabis use continue to be relaxed nationwide. Four states currently allow recreational marijuana use, and California is expected to pass a ballot measure and become the fifth later this year.

The 420 Games concept was developed by Jim McAlpine, a former executive with a ski lift company and a medicinal marijuana user. He has run similar events in San Francisco since 2014 and plans to bring the 420 Games to Denver, Seattle and Portland, Ore., later this year.

Saturday’s event marked the first time it was held in Los Angeles.

“I use marijuana every day, multiple times a day. … I use it on a level where people have called me a stoner my whole life, and I’m the farthest, farthest thing from a stoner,” said McAlpine, a California resident who holds a medical marijuana card. “I own my own company. I’m married. I’m a good athlete. I do very well for myself.”

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A trove of representatives from marijuana delivery companies, food trucks, musicians, marijuana dispensary employees and doctors could be seen dotting the parking lot to the north of the Santa Monica Pier on Saturday morning after the race completed. While people were more than ready to share information about marijuana, none was actually smoked. Event organizers didn’t want to send the wrong message.

R.J. Balde, 23, was at the event doing promotional work for Eaze, a company that developed a medical marijuana delivery app. Balde, who moved to California from Michigan two years ago, said events like the 420 Games are important because some people still pass judgment on his medicinal marijuana use.

“I still get a little bit of a side-eye, so I have to, to some extent, hide it,” he said.

Barnicle, the race winner and a former college athlete, laughed at the idea that the champion of a marijuana-themed race would get lost on his way to the finish line.

The long-haired Boston native was well ahead of his competition in the final mile, but he banked to the right near Ocean Front walk, veering under the Santa Monica Pier and around a bike path as the crowd at the finish line stared at the empty straightaway he was supposed to be sprinting down.

“This is the most unique exercise group in the world,” he said.

Mariana Vieira started training for the race a month ago and made sure she had a solid breakfast and a good night’s sleep before stepping off the starting line. She was all business for 4.2 miles.

But once the race was over ...

“We just smoked,” she said, giggling when approached by a reporter.

Still wearing her 420 Games racing bib, Vieira said she doesn’t understand why something as simple as a plant can cause so much controversy in certain crowds.

“It's 2016,” the 31-year-old Angeleno said. “It’s a plant. It’s acceptable in this society for people to stuff their face with pills, but it’s a problem for me to smoke a plant?”

james.queally@latimes.com

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