- Former NFL player Calvin Johnson is the founder of his own Marijuana business “Primitiv.”
- Johnson said he often smoked marijuana after games, and it helped alleviate pain in a holistic way.
- Johnson now hopes to end the common stigmas around marijuana among athletes.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Calvin Johnson stayed away from marijuana while growing up in Georgia in fear of his mother’s repercussions. But fast forward to 2021, the NFL Hall-of-Famer has found a new career path in leading his own marijuana brand, “Primitiv.”
Johnson wants to make high-quality Cannabis available to a mainstream market, including professional athletes. But the first step is to change the negative outlook around the drug that was prevalent among members of his family and community growing up.
“Anybody you know, especially in the brown community, they were really heavily penalized for having Cannabis,” Johnson told Insider. “Being Black folks, that’s why it was so in our community and in our families, it was so heavily stigmatized.”
Over 8.2 million Americans were arrested for marijuana from 2001-10, according to American Civil Liberties Union, and Black Americans were 3.73 times more likely than whites to be charged for possession.
But several states have decriminalized marijuana over the past decade, and some have even legalized it for recreational use.
Now, Johnson aspires to be an industry leader for a product that was critical for him and other NFL players in coping with the pain sustained from playing football.
Getting high became a routine part of Johnson’s football career
Johnson first tried marijuana during his freshman year at Georgia Tech, and right away, he began to question the negative stigmas he grew up hearing about the plant.
“Of course, I thought about my mom, and nobody thinks this is a good thing to do,” Johnson said. “Then tried it, and I was like ‘whoa, what is this?’ That was my first thoughts, it was like, ‘whoa, what is this?’ After trying it, it was like walking on clouds almost.”
When Johnson entered the NFL in 2007 as the No. 2 overall draft pick by the Detroit Lions, marijuana became a medical necessity to deal with the pain of the professional game.
“It was really irregular and more social during the college days. In college life, it’s crazy, you didn’t really deal with the injuries that you deal with in the league,” Johnson said. “Once you get to the league, injuries are just everywhere. But in college, you didn’t have the injury bug, and you weren’t really sore.”
Johnson didn’t sustain a single injury during his three-year career at Georgia Tech. But during nine seasons in Detroit, Johnson suffered multiple injuries to his knees, ankles, and fingers. Still, he played through much of the pain as he only missed eight games across his career.
Marijuana was one of the remedies that allowed Johnson to play through that pain. Still, it didn’t replace prescription painkillers like Toradol, which he took before and during games to cope without impairments to focus or physical dexterity. Johnson only ever got high after games when the Lions were playing at home.
But when Johnson did get high, he would often invite other players into the mix as well.
“The majority of the locker rooms, if they’re not currently participating, they have smoked or used Cannabis in some application,” Johnson said. “If we’re hanging, that was our preferred vice. I’m not a big drinker at all, but if we were hanging and it was a couple of fellas, that would be our first choice.”
For Johnson, getting high has even amplified his passions outside of football.
“I’m fishing, I might be drawing, or doing something artsy, it all depends,” Johnson said. “I do feel like sometimes, depending on what you have, you can disperse some creative thoughts. I like to keep my notebook handy because I might get some interesting thoughts I might want to jot down.”
Johnson wants to help normalize marijuana use for NFL players
NFL players have historically faced harsh punishments for testing positive for marijuana, including fines and suspensions.
But the league eased up on its discipline this offseason. Players won’t be fined or suspended for testing positive for marijuana from April 20 to Aug. 9 for the first time, thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement passed in March 2020.
The NFL is also going to experiment with Cannabis as an official sponsored treatment for its players. The league announced it would invest $1 million in funding for research into pain management and cannabinoids on June 8.
Johnson hopes to partner Primitiv with the NFL and share that research that his company has done alongside professors at Harvard. If he does get the chance to sit at the tables with an NFL executive to work on potential partnerships, he already has an idea of the pitch he would deliver.
“I would literally just ask them to do research. That’s where we find cures, that’s how we find solutions, they’ve got start somewhere. And research on this particular category is obviously category one for some reason. It’s illegal, you can’t even do it, so it’s been a crime that it’s been category one for so long, and now that they’re allowing Universities to do research. I think the biggest thing the NFL can do is help us do our research.”