Township Council Votes to Opt-Out of Cannabis Businesses in Sparta

It is disappointing to see the majority of the Sparta Council ban cannabis businesses when voters across the political spectrum overwhelming indicated their approval last year. We applaud Councilman Dan Chiariello for Sparta Town Council for his lone dissenting vote and his thoughts on the matter below.

“The council voted 3-1 to ban cannabis businesses in Sparta. I was the lone dissenting vote. Last year Sparta voters, by a margin of 2:1, voted in favor of recreational cannabis possession and use. These were my remarks on the ordinance (from memory):
I do not smoke or otherwise use cannabis products; I never have and likely never will. I do not drink alcohol. I do not smoke or otherwise use tobacco products. I do not use recreational drugs. I never have and never will. I may be the most boring council member ever elected in Sparta.
That said, it’s clear to be that this ordinance is not about safety. I say that because I cannot reconcile cannabis use with alcohol use. By nearly every measure alcohol is more dangerous than cannabis. Without going into a parade of statistics, consider only this: Each year about 2200 people die from acute alcohol poisoning. Additionally, about 95.000 die from chronic alcohol consumption health matters. For cannabis, the numbers are zero, because it is virtually impossible to die from a cannabis overdose.
I cited that statistic to someone who immediately replied “unless it is laced with something”. And that is why this is not about safety. We were having that conversation at a local Sparta eatery over a hot beverage. I was able to consume that drink with confidence that it is safe. We bought it from an established food dispensary who abides by strict government health and safety regulations, and is regularly inspected by members of our community. By banning the sale of cannabis products in Sparta, not only do we push that business out to other towns, we will encourage Sparta residents to obtain cannabis from unregulated and potentially unsafe sources.
So, if this is not about safety, what is it about? For me, the answer is clear: It is about stigma. Alcohol is cool, pot is ugly. That message has been reinforced to us through government actions, movies, advertising, and much more.
Consider this thought experiment: If I were to say “Let’s go to my place after this meeting. I have a keg, we’ll put on some ‘Stones, we’ll get hammered; it’ll be great! You would probably think: “That sounds like fun! Dan’s not a boring guy!”
Now consider this: If I were to say “Let’s go to my place after this meeting. I have some good weed, we’ll put on some Pink Floyd, we’ll get baked, it’ll be great! You, instead, would probably be shocked that I would say that out loud and whisper to the person next to you “Did you know Dan is a pot head?”
Alcohol is cool, pot is ugly. In another conversation someone told me we have to keep those businesses out of Sparta because they invite “the riff-raff”. You know who they are, those people who go to stores like that. We don’t want them around.
Sparta residents overwhelmingly voted in favor of recreational cannabis possession and use. I’m sure they also had in mind they would have the ability to actually buy it as well.”