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Marijuana vs. Auto Dealerships: Car Salesmen Not Feeling Cannabis

Chris Roberts

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Researchers Find Cannabis May Limit Some Driving Abilities

Cathedral City, California is one of a brace of forlorn, all-but-forgotten towns scattered across the wide expanse of desert stretching west from Los Angeles attempting to reinvent—or, rescue—themselves as marijuana boomtowns.

Nearly everywhere, marijuana is welcomed, or at least coolly embraced, as a badly needed raison d’etre, bringing businesses (and tax revenue) to places where the recession was only the latest in a series of reversals, and one that’s never quite turned back the other way.

In Desert Hot Springs, all the available real estate has been bought up by out-of-town investors, looking to cash in on the city-blessed right to run a million-square-foot marijuana operation (though where they’ll find all the water demanded by thousands and thousands of cannabis plants is an open question); in Coalinga, further up Interstate 5, even the local reactionaries are happy that an abandoned prison—once the local economic driver—has been leased by an outfit on whose board sits Bob Marley’s youngest son.

But in Cathedral City, the marijuana industry is running into well-established, entrenched and persuasive opposition. Not from lawmen or religious types, but from the owners of the local car dealerships.

Taxes from auto sales produce one of the few existing sources of municipal revenue, and—irate over marijuana’s new footprint in their town, and self-enamored enough to refer to themselves as the local “golden goose”—salesmen are now threatening to leave if cannabis takes over town.

Take Wes Hinkle. Hinkle owns a Volvo dealership in Cathedral City. Adjacent to his car lot are swaths of vacant land, real estate he says he once considered buying, if he were to expand. But as the Desert Sun reports, not only was the land not available, but an out-of-town marijuana outfit is planning to build two growhouses there.

In most places in America, warehouse space coexists just fine next to car dealerships. But not in Cathedral City. “I just about fainted when I heard this,” Hinkle told the paper.

Hinkle and other car dealership owners have been lobbying the local city council in an effort to keep marijuana away from their lots, arguing that the presence of cannabis will harm their business. Not that they’re opposed to medical marijuana per se, no sir!

From the paper:

The dealers all said they weren’t opposed to medical marijuana cultivation, but they didn’t want it in their backyard. They proposed a marijuana district on the annexed city land north of Interstate-10, further away from established city business districts.

This is the ancient canard. Marijuana will undoubtedly harm schoolchildren, churches, retail, restaurants and anything else already in existence if it’s too close, until the marijuana outfit actually arrives and nothing bad happens. But for now, the car dealers may have the upper hand, despite their weak and tired argument.

As the newspaper noted, car dealerships are the “largest and most profitable employers in Cathedral City.”

If they leave, marijuana would be the only game in town—and with one dealership by itself providing half of the city’s tax revenue, without which potholes wouldn’t be filled and police officers wouldn’t be paid, playing chicken with car dealers is not a gamble elected officials are eager to make.

One thing rankling the auto dealers is the warm welcome local leaders have given the marijuana industry. In at least one instance, the council rezoned land in order to allow marijuana cultivation on site—the kind of red-carpet treatment normally reserved for Chamber of Commerce good ole boys, not weed dealers.

It’s unclear what was stopping the auto dealers from buying up the land adjacent to their lots at any time before May 2016, when marijuana businesses became welcome in town. Nonetheless, they’re making their distaste felt as acutely as they can—”This is the end of the automobile dealership expansion in Cathedral City,” one huffed—while accusing city leaders of being sellouts. You know, being too business friendly, to the wrong business.

They want the money,” said Hinkle, describing the council’s motives to the paper. “But in 10 years, we’ll still be there, and they’ll be gone. The city is out of control at this point.”

In his defense, Mayor Stan Henry points out that only 40 of the city’s 2,100 business licenses are held by marijuana. And if the auto dealerships want to pack up and leave, or not bring in a few extra cars to where desert sand used to blow in the wind, someone else will: A few days before the auto dealers went to the city council, a new casino and hotel announced a deal for 12.5 acres of prime land in downtown.

If cannabis and cars work for Las Vegas, they’ll work in Cathedral City.

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