Some things you need to know about legalized recreational marijuana in Michigan.
Mike Thompson, Detroit Free Press

LANSING — Former Detroit Lions Calvin Johnson and Rob Sims were hoping to get into Michigan’s fledgling marijuana industry.

But the Michigan Medical Licensing Board dashed those hopes Friday when it denied prequalification status for their venture, including a marijuana dispensary, a grow operation and a marijuana processing facility.

Football players are increasingly turning to marijuana to help with the pain they live with as a result of the crushing hits they sustain during their careers. One player — tight end Martellus Bennett, who retired last year from the New England Patriots after 10 years in the NFL — said in a podcast earlier this year that more than 80 percent of football players indulge in pot to help with the aches.

And now some of them are trying to get into the business.

“There is great interest because of head injuries and there are a number of football players looking into the research with cannabis and oils and the impact it might have on brain injuries,” said John Truscott, a spokesman for Johnson. “And there are a lot of professional athletes who are interested in the business as they look at 20 years down and how it may impact them.”

The reason for the denial, in part, was a couple of minor traffic tickets that Johnson got while he was visiting family in Georgia and hadn’t taken care of before submitting his application. For Sims, the issue was problems with some homes he owns in Dearborn.

Referring to Johnson’s tickets,  board member Donald Bailey, a retired Michigan State Police officer who has voted to deny many licenses, said: “One is nine years old and one is four years old and there are warrants out. They’re minor, maybe even meaningless, but the problem is their response (noting that Johnson hadn’t disclosed the tickets in his marijuana license application). We’re entering this highly regulated market. And if this is their response, that’s a problem for me.”

Truscott  said Johnson did not know about the tickets because it was during a time when he was traveling back and forth between training camp in Detroit and visiting family in Atlanta. He said as soon as the former Lions star receiver learned of them, he flew to Georgia to pay the fines and get the warrants dismissed. And as for Sims, the issues with the houses have also been taken care of and he has a received certificate of occupancy from Dearborn.

“This shows the flaws in the current process. (The board) is ignoring the facts that are being given to them,” Truscott said. “He didn’t even know that he had the traffic ticket and when he got the notice, he immediately took care of it. This one wasn’t even a close call and they got rejected.”

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Sims said the business venture will appeal the board’s decision.

“What’s happened is kind of ridiculous. We’ve put a lot of work into this. It would be hard to see how you could have a better candidate for a license.” he said. “We’ve done everything by the book. But just like football, we’ve had some hard times, but we’ll get back up.”



Johnson, who was considered one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, played for the Lions from 2007 until his retirement in 2015. Sims, an offensive lineman, played for the Seattle Seahawks before being traded to the Lions in 2010. He retired in 2014.

More on Calvin Johnson: Megatron was unsure how to tell Lions he was retiring

The group that applied for the licenses – CRJJA Ventures – can appeal the denial.

The action came on a day when the marijuana licensing board considered applications from dozens of marijuana businesses, approving licenses for five dispensaries,15 large and one small grow operations, three processors and one secure transporter. Pre-qualification status, which usually is given to marijuana businesses that don’t have approval yet from a local community, also was approved for 38 businesses.

Licenses were denied for four dispensaries and two growers. Pre-qualification status was denied for four dispensaries, four growers and two processors.

So far, there have been 45 dispensaries, 28 growers, 10 processors and four each transport and testing facilities licensed by the state. They can be found on an interactive map – – developed by the state. 

In addition to the licenses, the board also approved a resolution that will help with a looming shortage of medical marijuana at licensed dispensaries. The board agreed to allow dispensaries to continue to buy product from registered caregivers through the end of the year. The caregivers, who are allowed to grow up to 72 plants for medical marijuana cardholders, are needed as the licensed growers get their operations up, running and producing mature cannabis.

Kathleen Gray covers the marijuana industry for the Detroit Free Press. Contact her: 313-223-4430, or on Twitter @michpoligal.

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