DESERT HOT SPRINGS, Calif. — A desperate, crime-ridden desert town, reeling from a recent brush with bankruptcy, has turned to an unlikely savior to pay for its embattled police force — marijuana.Desert Hot Springs, a city of about 28,000 people in the desert two hours east of Los Angeles, is considering legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries as a last-ditch effort to bolster the city budget so it can maintain its local police department.
The City Council will decide in August whether it will ask city voters to approve hefty taxes on medical marijuana. The council will also lift a ban on dispensaries, allowing the businesses to blossom in city limits for the first time in seven years. Council members have considered a 10% sales tax, a $50,000 permitting fee and a 5% cultivation tax — or a combination of all three.
Desert Hot Springs enacted its dispensary ban in 2007 as a swift reaction to a small dispensary that opened near the city’s center. The ban pushed the shop out of the city, but it re-opened in the nearby city of Palm Springs, where it thrives today.
The dispensary owner, said he would likely return to Desert Hot Springs if the ban is lifted, but he believes it is ironic that the city would now welcome him back. Only a few years ago, officials in Desert Hot Springs viewed his customers as criminals, not a revenue source.