By Tracy Jan and Fenit Nirappil,

Darryl Hill, hailed for integrating college football in his youth half a century ago, was a successful entrepreneur with no criminal record and plenty of capital when he applied for a license to grow marijuana in Maryland — a perfect candidate, or so he thought, to enter a wide-open industry that was supposed to take racial diversity into account.

To his dismay, Hill was shut out on his first attempt. So were at least a dozen other African American applicants for Maryland licenses. They were not told why.

Now, Hill, who has a long history of helping minority firms get financing and federal contracts, has a new game plan for breaking into the industry — just as a number of jurisdictions are turning to address the yawning racial disparities in the legal marijuana business.

States generally do not track the race and ethnicity of license applicants, but industry analysts and researchers say that dispensaries and the more-profitable growing operations across the country are overwhelmingly dominated by white men.

The lack of minority representation is especially fraught given that research shows African Americans were disproportionately arrested and incarcerated during the war on drugs. Now that marijuana is seen as a legitimate business, advocates argue that minorities should also reap the profits.

“Here’s a drug that for years has been the bane of the minority community, sending young people to jail by the boatloads,” Hill said. “Now, it could be a boon to these communities, but minorities have been left out.”

So the 73-year-old great-grandfather who was the first black football player at the University of Maryland sought an ally in his quest to help other minorities — and himself — break into the closed ranks of cannabis cultivation and sales.

Hill’s new business partner, Rhett

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