Awash in pot shops, city seeks to enable even more with nearly $870K in grants

Dots indicate the location of nearly a dozen cannabis businesses along a three-mile stretch of Palm Canyon Drive. The city is hoping to encourage more minority ownership of those businesses and has grant money to help.

Two dozen marijuana dispensaries in Palm Springs, including nearly a dozen along a three-mile stretch downtown, may soon get more competition, courtesy of the city.

Officials here are hoping to use $869,500 in state grant money to help would-be business owners through its Equity Business Program, and are expected to begin taking applications soon. Staff reported last week that the application process would open Tuesday. As of this morning, a page on the city’s website had an advisory that applications were still not available.

At stake is money received through the state’s Cannabis Equity Grants Program, which aims to advance economic justice for communities that were disproportionately affected by the drug war. In Palm Springs, data going back to 2007 show more than 16 percent of arrests and citations for marijuana possession in the city involved members of the Black community, which comprises only 4.5 percent of the city’s population and just 2 percent of the Coachella Valley’s population.

Palm Springs was one of several cities and counties across the state to receive parts of $15 million doled out by the state in March. Those funds build on $40 million in cannabis equity funding previously awarded in California, including an initial $100,000 given to the city in 2019.

The city will use the grant money to assist applicants and licensees with low or no-interest loans, reduced or waived licensing fees, and technical assistance, including one-on-one consulting, training and navigation assistance for regulatory requirements.

But first, they have to find applicants. City staff told members of the Palm Springs Cannabis Task Force May 24 they hope to spread word of the program to potential shop owners often underrepresented in the business community.

“We really want to make sure we get this out to every member of the community who would like to apply,” said Veronica Goedhart, the city’s director of special program compliance. “We want to spread word to minority community members. We are really excited about this program.

“We are working with consultants on program development, and constantly looking at ways we can expand our equity program.”

Among other qualifications, applicants for the grant money need to show that their family income is at or below 80 percent of the Riverside County Area Median Income (adjusted based on the family size of family), and have a net worth below $250,000. Applicants who previously resided or currently reside in a low income household and those arrested or convicted for a cannabis related crime in the county between 1980 and 2011, are especially encouraged to apply.

Dieter Crawford, the founder and CEO of Urban Palm Springs who serves as vice president of the Desert Highland Gateway Estates Community Action Association, told Task Force members interest in the Black community already exists.

“I’ve got community members already interested in applying,” he said at the May meeting.

With one marijuana dispensary per every 2,100 residents, Palm Springs has a higher density of pot shops than any other city in California.

If and when the city is able to help stand up minority-owned cannabis businesses, they would be among the first to join what is an already crowded field. Of the nearly two dozen marijuana dispensaries in the city owned by a total of 39 individuals, state and private records reviewed by The Post show few, if any, are 100 percent minority owned. Furthermore, unlike other cities in the state, Palm Springs does not appear to have placed a cap on the number of cannabis licenses it will issue. In Los Angeles, which has established a cap, data show there is currently one license per 51,000 residents. In Palm Springs there is one license per 2,100 residents — a higher density than any other city in California that allows retail marijuana sales.

While the volume of pot shops is unique in Palm Springs, the lack of minority-owned cannabis businesses is not. Many communities across the state, where the sale and use of recreational marijuana was first legalized in 2016, are struggling to find ways to help the very communities who suffered most when marijuana was criminalized

In LA, regulators have yet to give final approval to any social equity licensees despite the fact it has been more than three years since the city created rules for legal cannabis businesses.

“We don’t have one successful social equity [licensing] program yet,” said Bonita Money, founder and executive director of the National Diversity & Inclusion Cannabis Alliance, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that advises and advocates for social equity entrepreneurs, in an article appearing on the Pew Charitable Trust website in January.


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