Before Calvin Johnson slipped on his gold NFL Hall of Fame jacket during 2021’s induction ceremony in Canton, OH—long before he wowed millions of fans around the world during a spectacular decade-long career catching passes and running over defenders—Johnson was using cannabis.
Johnson (“Megatron”) says he used the plant to clear his mind before taking the field, then again to manage the physical pain when he finished playing or practicing. It worked far better than the team-issued pain pills and injections. Simply put, the man was among the NFL’s elite in part because of cannabis.
“Plant medicine is nature’s earliest healer,” said Johnson, who spent his entire career with the Lions. “It was the most natural and clean way that I could take care of my body.”
The problem? The world’s most lucrative sports league had a zero-tolerance policy for the plant. Players caught using cannabis—even in weed-legal states—faced four-game suspensions on the first offense. A second offense landed players a year-long ban and getting popped for the third time usually closed the curtains on a player’s career. The NFL has since relaxed its controversial policy, thanks in part to Johnson. But there’s still a long way to go.
Johnson used his 12-minute Hall of Fame speech to elaborate on the “primitive” and “healing” plant that made possible nearly a decade of surviving grueling physical punishment from some of the world’s hardest-hitting cornerbacks and linebackers. The full cannabis comeback story won’t be complete, in his mind, until team doctors can recommend and prescribe the plant. In other words, tolerating weed is a good start for the NFL. Embracing it is the logical—and necessary—next step.
“Everything we need to heal our body comes from the Earth,” Johnson said. “I truly believe that. I apply that mindset to everything I put in my body.”
Inspired by his passion for the plant and need for healing, Johnson and former Lions teammate Rob Sims opened a cultivation facility in the small town of Webberville, MI, in 2019.
The global pandemic stalled the duo’s plans for a brick-and-mortar store originally slated to be opened in 2019, but Primitiv dispensary finally launched in 2022 in the small city of Niles, on Michigan’s border with Indiana. The dispensary now serves about 400 paying customers each day.
“We’re looking at more cultivation options and definitely getting more dispensaries up and running,” he said. “We’re just waiting for the state [of Michigan] to come around and for the right opportunity to make the biggest possible impact.”
Johnson is donating to cannabis research at Harvard University and is an advising member of the Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit that advocates for cannabis criminal justice reform.
This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.