In fourth or fifth grade, Calvin Johnson and his classmates were given an assignment. The students were asked what they wanted to do with their lives.
A heavy question for a preteen, Johnson, who went on to become one of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history and a 2021 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, didn’t write “I want to be a professional football player.”
“I said something like ‘Help the masses,’” Johnson recalls, explaining his mother showed him his response recently.
In fact, his parents, Dr. Arica Johnson and Calvin Johnson Sr. told their son he needed As and Bs in school or he couldn’t play sports. Not only did the younger Calvin achieve the success he needed in the classroom in order to play sports, he also achieved success on the field, which paved the way to his record-breaking NFL career and enshrinement in Canton, Ohio.
At Georgia Tech, Johnson, who majored in management with a background in building construction, spent one summer designing and building solar latrines to improve sanitation in Bolivia; it was a project he chose over helping out with designs for environmentally friendly luxury condos less than a mile from campus.
After his rookie season in the NFL, Johnson leveraged his education and platform to start the Calvin Johnson Jr. Foundation in 2008. The organization runs a leadership conference, football camps and mentorship program for at-risk youth while supporting the needy in Atlanta and Detroit.
Today, Johnson, 36, is continuing to help the masses through his work with Primitiv, a Michigan-based cannabis research company he and former Lions teammate Rob Sims founded in 2021. The company partnered with Harvard University to research how marijuana can help people with CTE and chronic pain.
“It’s crucial to be an advocate in this space and it was hard to do it while we were playing ball,” Johnson says. “We were advocates then but there’s rules and regulations you have to abide by. Now that we’re entrepreneurs and we can go out and start our own business, this is definitely a passion of ours. Not only do we use cannabis but we saw it for what it was, which is medicine and a natural way of healing other than what was proposed.”
According to a National Institutes of Health-supported study, marijuana and hallucinogen use among young adults reached an all-time high in 2021. The proportion of young adults (ages 19-30) who reported past-year marijuana use reached 43% in 2021, an increase from 34% in 2016 and 29% in 2011.
Coupled with the coronavirus pandemic and escalating political and social tension, the surge can also be attributed to marijuana being fully legalized and decriminalized in 19 states plus Washington, D.C., with other states permitting its medicinal usage.
But rather than marketing bitten-ear-shaped edibles like Mike Tyson’s Tyson 2.0 cannabis brand, Primitiv, a member of the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association, is advocating for favorable policy and regulations that help promote research and disseminate information on the health benefits of cannabis for treating chronic pain or mental or cognitive issues.
“What we’re doing with Primitiv right now, we’re trying to create innovative ways for people to apply the medicine,” says Johnson, who utilized cannabis as part of his weekly routine toward the end of his NFL career. “By doing so, we’re able to attract new users because we’re creating new ways to deliver the medicine or new ways to consume the medicine. It isn’t about attracting people for the recreational uses but more so for the quality of life aspect of it.”
To help Primitiv take the next step, the company partnered with indoor horticulture lighting company Fohse. Not only do FOHSE lights help Primitiv improve its energy usage and savings, it also results in higher yields.
For FOHSE CEO and co-founder Brett Stevens, working with high-profile advocates like actor Jim Belushi and Johnson and Sims is a no-brainer because of how they view cannabis.
“What was most exciting was (Calvin’s) outlook on the plant as medicine,” Stevens says. “We’re in groves all over the world and the people we’re most excited to work with are the people who appreciate the plant on a level he does. He has a big voice and he’s doing it for the right reasons. We’re aligned with our mission and vision and the values of what we’re doing.
“As soon as we got to know what was going on at Primitiv, it was a no-brainer and we wanted to be a part of it 100%.”