Retired Detroit Lions football players Calvin Johnson and Robert SIms talk about their entry in Michigan’s marijuana industry. Kathleen Gray, Detroit Free Press Lansing Bureau
Former Detroit Lions football players Calvin Johnson and Robert Sims are expanding their emerging cannabis enterprise into the field of medicine.
The pair announced an agreement Thursday with the International Phytomedicines and Medical Cannabis Institute at Harvard University, which is researching the benefits of medical marijuana and looking at the best ways to deliver cannabis-based medicines to cancer cells in patients.
The partnership, which also will look at the benefits of treating Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, a neurodegenerative disease caused by repeated blows to the head, with cannabis will help normalize the cannabis industry, Johnson said.
“With the stigma associated with this industry, a lot of my family, including my mother, looked at me like ‘Have you lost your mind?’ ” he said during the Cannabis Capital Conference in Detroit, sponsored by the financial news website Benzinga. “But when you all of a sudden add that we have a partnership with Harvard because we’re trying to find the best medicine, that changes a lot of minds.”
The institute was launched in May with a goal of researching and increasing access to medicinal plants for global health. It came about after the World Health Organization reported that up to 80% of the world’s population uses medicinal plants as remedies for a variety of illnesses.
Johnson, Sims and teammate Jason Strayhorn also participated in the launch during the Harvard Global Health Catalyst summit in Boston, where they talked about the benefits of cannabis to treat both physical and mental health ailments, with an emphasis on the weekly beating that football players endure on the gridiron.
“We’re actually going to be able to do clinical trials on CTE and with pain management,” Sims said. “Very quickly we went from being washed up athletes and very quickly turned to something that will really help people.”
The pair said it’s especially rewarding to get into the business now because they can contribute product for the research and help athletes before they’re totally debilitated by the game.
“From our point of view, 99% of football players have some form of CTE,” Sims said. “It’s a big deal because we can now represent a group of players who are alive and fighting for a treatment for themselves.”
The players, who started a house-flipping business at the end of their football careers, saw the possibilities in the legal weed business when they worked on a house in the “green zone” of Lansing, where several dispensaries had popped up.
They now are preparing to open a grow facility in the next couple of weeks in Webberville and have plans for medical marijuana dispensaries in Niles, Lansing and Kawkawlin.
It hasn’t been an easy journey for the athletes. Their first try for a license died because of an unpaid traffic ticket in Atlanta, for Johnson and issues with a rental property in Dearborn for Sims. But, operating under the brand name of Primative, the players have brought in additional partners and re-applied for a license and have been successful.
“That hurt, we all hurt on that day,” Johnson said of the day when they were denied a business license from the state. “If there was a low day in the last year for us, that was it. All the time and money we put forth, it was tragic. But we found some great legal advice and partners and found a solution.”
The pair are used to difficult challenges in both the marijuana and football businesses.
“There have been some bumps in the roads,” Sims said. “But, we’re used to those bumps, playing for the Lions.”
Contact Kathleen Gray: 313-223-4430, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @michpoligal.
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