Ex-Lions host former Red Wing, Stanley Cup Champion at marijuana dispensary

Published 8:30 am Friday, April 29, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

NILES — It was a star-studded affair at Primitiv last Saturday.

Not only were customers able to see former Detroit Red Wings and Stanley Cup champion Darren McCarty during a special meet and greet session at the popular dispensary, they were also able to meet with the owners, who are pretty famous, too.

NFL Hall of Famer and former Detroit Lion Calvin Johnson and former Lion Rob Sims, co-owners of Primitiv Group, were on hand to check in on the store and host McCarty.

“We’ve been coming to Niles and building our concept here,” Sims said. “It’s been great to finally get the doors open and see people come through here and now the weather’s getting better, so it’s a great feeling.”

McCarty, a four-time Stanley Cup champion with the Red Wings, enjoyed his time in Niles and was impressed with what Johnson and Sims are building in Niles.

“I think it’s awesome,” McCarty said. “I’m a big proponent [of cannabis]. Everybody knows how I feel about cannabis and stuff like that, but it’s the people of Michigan that I love. … Now that I’m retired, now that I’m in the Michigan cannabis game, I plan on being in places like Niles. Obviously being here with Rob and with Calvin there’s a connection as we try to grow as former athletes, our own messaging and education as far as this plant goes. I think that there’s a lot of us in the same situation.

“I’ve been to some of the wonderful places in Michigan and now I can mark Niles off my book. But this won’t be the only time I’ll be here, I guarantee it.”

Johnson enjoyed meeting both the customers and the Primitiv staff, who received high marks from the Lions star.

“I’m most appreciative of the team and the effect they’re having on customers, especially the ones that come back that I’ve had the chance to meet,” Johnson said. “They speak highly about the prices but they probably come back for the team, the relationships and conversations that they have and the learning experience that happens in this place for them. It’s exciting to get those repeat customers and then just meet new people.”


‘Elevated wellness’

While Johnson and Sims were teammates on the field, they later became teammates off the field in the real estate business. As athletes with first-hand experience with the medicinal benefits of cannabis, the duo decided to enter the cannabis industry to provide customers with relief from chronic pain. They purchased 1286 S. 11th St., the site of the former Billiard Garden, in 2020 and in February 2022 opened Primitiv, the company’s first dispensary offering a full range of recreational and medicinal cannabis products.

“I think me and Calvin are a lot alike, especially when I first got to Detroit,” Sims said. “Both of us were dealing with pain and playing. I was coming off of pectoral surgery and opioids and stuff like that were just something I wasn’t about. There’s this underlying cannabis culture in the NFL and I always wanted to do business with Calvin because he’s so humble and just a great guy. This opportunity came about and we jumped in feet-first. We’re proud of what we’ve been able to build here with this shop.”

“We just felt like that was a great opportunity for us to secure a property that we can get a nice lease on. That’s great business for us,” Johnson said. “At the same time, we had a passion for cannabis so we understood that there are healing powers with the plant.”

The journey has led Johnson and Sims to explore the science behind cannabis. Primitiv has partnered with institutions such as the International Phytomedicines and Medical Cannabis Institute at Harvard University to expand research and disseminate information into the health benefits of cannabis on a wide range of medical conditions, including chronic pain, CTE chronic traumatic encephalopathy and cancer treatments.

“Obviously through the research aspect of it, we’re here serving our community and at the same time making the medicines through our cultivation,” Johnson said. “That’s just a great experience to be able to serve people what they need in a natural, holistic way that is an alternative to what’s out there right now.”

McCarty is an adamant supporter of cannabis and can often be seen or heard in the media speaking of its health benefits. A recovering alcoholic, he credits cannabis with helping him overcome his addiction and said he will be seven years sober in November.

“Cannabis saved my life,” he said. “I used to be 280 pounds and my blood pressure was 265 over 165. I didn’t stroke out or have a heart attack in the hospitals because of the cannabis in my system. After being given [Rick Simpson Oil], I was in an intensive life or death detox and after seven days I was able to get the physical addiction of alcohol out, and I was grateful.”

McCarty hopes his testimony reaches people suffering from addiction and health ailments.

“The worst thing as an addict is to feel helpless, like you don’t have an option,” he said. “What I’m here to tell you and to show people is that listen, I was there. I didn’t feel it, but that’s not the way it is. Through the loving support of the people of the great state of Michigan, I’m alive, and I’m here to spread my message, my truth, my word, and, and join the people who have believed this long before I have and  you know, to celebrate the plant.

“To be here in Niles is part of the journey that it’s brought about being with Calvin, Rob and their people because this is how we do it. It’s a people issue. It’s important that I stand up for anybody that stands up for the things that I believe in.”

Why Niles?

For Johnson and Sims, Niles’ small-town feel coupled with its proximity to Chicago and Northern Indiana made it an attractive place to set up shop.

“Being on the border is nice because we can touch more people, because that’s really what it is about with us,” Sims said. “We want to be able to come out here and bring people like Darren McCarty out here and bring a little different feel out here. … I just like the town; we’ve got the fast food road [in South 11th Street] and being a big boy I’m enjoying this. But other than that, coming from a small town in [Macedonia, Ohio], this kind of reminded me of that a little bit.”

“From a business perspective, Niles is a great area,” Johnson said. “You have Illinois, the southwest corner of Michigan and you have Indiana. It’s almost like a tri-state area. Here at Primitiv, our mission is to spread out to a greater population and this location allows us to do that. That’s a big factor in what you actually get in the industry but to be here with people is really where the joy comes from. We’re just spreading kindness.”


The future

While 2022 has been an exciting year for the Primitiv team, Sims is excited for what is to come. The company hopes to open more dispensaries in Michigan in the coming years and will soon be rolling out Primitiv Performance, a line of health and nutrition related products.

“It’s like anything you would see in GNC but with THC or CBD,” Sims said. “For the weekend warrior, for the athlete and for the person just trying to get some relief, we will have those products available soon.”

Sims looks forward to the company’s future, a future made possible thanks to passionate Niles customers and staff.

“I think what we’ve built here is just a great foundation,” he said. “I think we have so much more to tackle. We still have our research initiatives at Harvard and that’s looking promising. The sky really is the limit; I think we’ve built a great team here. As long as we can keep everybody together and keep our customers happy, we’ll be able to do some really exciting things.”