Desert Hot Springs, California—population 28,000—is a hardscrabble, working class town that has been down on its luck for most of the past few decades. It didn’t even have its own high school until 1999. That might all change soon as this desert town seems to be the perfect place for growing weed, and it intends to grow lots and lots of it.
The fact that Desert Hot Springs declared a fiscal emergency two years ago, the town’s median household income is barely $33,000 and nearly a third of the population lives below the federal poverty line encouraged the town council to wisely choose pot as a viable option to help solve their financial problems.
In 2014, when Desert Hot Springs, AKA DHS, became the first SoCal city to allow large-scale medical marijuana cultivation, things started to perk up as growers and developers came calling to buy up dusty swaths of desert land.
Although Mayor Scott Matas initially took some persuading, he came around when he heard about a friend’s mother with terminal cancer for whom cannabis provided significant pain relief in her final months.
“That really opened my eyes,” Matas told Britain’s the Independent. “Then I started meeting people in the pot business and found that they were lawyers and doctors and investors in ties and suits… not what I thought the industry was. I did a 180 and said, ‘We have to do this.’”
And so they’ve done it.
With November’s passage of Prop 64, Desert Hot Springs is poised to rake in some green.
Jason Elsasser, president of the Cultivation Alliance Network comprised of 24 weed businesses, told the Independent that he hopes the town will soon be “a Mecca for cannabis.”
Matas said DHS now has 50 pot cultivation projects in various stages of development, which means the town needs to beef up its inadequate infrastructure. Areas where cultivation is permitted need an expanded power grid, sewage system and new roads.
Despite that challenge, officials are hoping for a turnaround in this town that has seen some hard times.
“I can only imagine what we can do with the tax revenue,” Matas told the LA Times. “We’re in need of parks, our roads are dilapidated. All around…our sidewalks, curbs, gutters.”
Legal weed should generate big returns. Growers will be paying an annual tax of $24 per square foot of cultivation space for the first 3,000 square feet, and after that another $10 per square foot. The city has demanded that at least 20 percent of the weed workforce be local. The hope is to create several thousand jobs over the next few years.
Nicole Salisbury, owner of the Green Pearl dispensary, which opened in February, thinks Desert Hot Springs is in a great position, being the first to allow cultivation and manufacturing.
“They have put their stamp on the map and said, ‘We’re going to allow this, just like we would allow dairy farmers or liquor companies,'” Salisbury explained. “Other cities are watching that to see how it works, how it creates a truly legitimate industry, and how it benefits the city and its people.”
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