Out of control

Convenience stores
By AL DIAMON  |  October 12, 2011

Would you want a business like this in your town?

Not only does it lure patrons by offering an opportunity to gamble on games they have virtually no chance of winning, but it also sells products that have been linked to substance abuse, cancer, heart disease, and obesity.

Did I mention its selection of pornography? Did I note that children are allowed in this place? How about its promotion of the use of fossil fuels? Or the likelihood that it'll be a major source of litter? Then, there are the out-of-state owners, who traditionally pay low wages to employees, provide them with almost no benefits, and offer little chance for advancement.

Oh, and the building it's housed in is as ugly as a congressman's conscience.

Surely, such a hideous affront to so many of society's social, moral, economic, environmental, and esthetic standards would run afoul of numerous state and local laws, assuring that no such company could ever operate anywhere in Maine.

Except they do.

They're called convenience stores.

In spite of all the arguments against them, nearly every municipality in the state has a 7-Eleven, a Cumberland Farms, a Circle K, or some local variant on the theme, selling lottery tickets, gasoline, and copies of Hustler. That's because the governor and Legislature have been so busy worrying about casinos they forgot to pass statutes banning such emporiums of excess or, at least, restricting their numbers and locations.

Better yet, they could have approved legislation requiring a statewide vote before a convenience store could open. And a local vote, too. And then, if such an enterprise should somehow get past those hurdles, there should be a state board that would issue licenses (of which there would be many, each involving a separate lengthy application and exorbitant fee), set profit levels, and require the owners to pay, in addition to regular taxes, a percentage of their gross revenue to programs to help problem gamblers, overweight kids, sex addicts, alcoholics, smokers, poor people, medical research, highway beautification, and alternative energy.

Also, finding peace in the Middle East. (Which has nothing to do with convenience stores, but if you're imposing ridiculous conditions, why not hit them with everything you've got?)

OK, I recognize the absurdity. The state and its municipalities don't regulate private enterprise in this fashion. There has to be some logical connection between the consequences of a company's activities and the conditions imposed upon it, whether financial or operational. For instance, it's accepted practice to require government oversight of the structural integrity of dams (well, occasionally, but probably not this year — or next) or the safety of ski lifts (oops) or the licensing of cosmetologists (Maine has a tough law against bad haircuts) or the retail price of milk (huh?).

But for some reason, common sense (assuming any is available) about regulation is forgotten when it comes to casinos.

Nearly every elected official in the state is convinced that gambling emporiums must be strictly limited by methods that would never be considered for controlling the far more insidious threat posed by convenience stores. Before they can open, there has to be a referendum. Or two. There has to be an environmental review (in case roulette balls get into the water supply). There has to be licensing by a state board authorized to impose random conditions on every aspect of the operation. And there have to be annual payments by the owners to a host of public programs, including one that's supposed to plant shrubs in front of convenience stores in a desperate attempt to make them more attractive.

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