Celebrating Prohibited Practices in Maine
This was the week when famous documentary filmmaker Ken Burns discovered America used to have something called “Prohibition,” which was a constitutional amendment prohibiting teenagers from having sex.
Oh, wait, that was actually a different constitutional amendment called “Abstinence.” Prohibition was intended to keep teenagers from drinking alcohol and then having sex.
Unfortunately, shortly after it was approved in 1919, legal experts discovered that Prohibition also made it against the law for adults to imbibe.
Oh, well, most adults said, it’s only a constitutional amendment. We’ll keep drinking, anyway, although we’ll now do it without bothering to pay taxes on our booze.
Teenagers continued to get drunk and have sex, since it wasn’t any more illegal for them than it ever had been.
In Maine, none of this was big news. The state had had Prohibition in one form or another since 1851, making it a national leader.
In moonshining, bootlegging, speakeasying, home brewing and civil disobediencing. Also, there was quite a bit of teenage sexing.
Even after national Prohibition was repealed in 1932, Maine retained many aspects of its law, such as the part where anyone trying to buy a shot was suddenly set upon by burly thugs in the employ of the state, whose job it was to take the potential drunk out behind the courthouse and beat some Prohibition into his sinful skull. Like much of the leftover temperance fervor, this statute was eventually found by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to be mildly unconstitutional and was repealed.
Since it had proved impossible to ban alcohol consumption, the anti-booze contingent in Maine switched tactics, concentrating on making it as difficult as possible to purchase legal liquor. For instance, in bars and taverns, it became against the law to drink while standing up. That’s because everyone knows it’s almost impossible to become inebriated while sitting down.
The state also ran its own retail liquor stores, affectionately known as “green fronts” because of their uniformly dreary exterior coloring. In these establishments, no alcoholic beverages were visible. Nor was there any advertising for them. The only thing on the walls was a list of the products available, which was limited to no more than a couple of each variety of drink. Customers had to write the number of their selections on order forms, stand in line to hand them to a clerk, wait while that clerk handed the form to another clerk who disappeared into the back room, wait some more until that second clerk returned with a bagged bottle and handed it to the first clerk, pay and depart. Whereupon they discovered they’d accidentally been given the order of the person in front of them, so instead of a nice Chianti, they had a bottle of Allen’s coffee brandy to go with dinner.
After many centuries, most of these repressive laws were repealed. Bar patrons could stand (although swaying – even to music – remains prohibited). Private stores could sell liquor (although only at exorbitant prices set by the state). It even became permissible to order a Bloody Mary in a restaurant to go with Sunday brunch.
Teenagers, however, were still not allowed to have sex on Sundays. Particularly during brunch.
That’s not to say Maine has any shortage of other banned practices.
For instance, it’s against the law in this state to operate a gasoline pump that isn’t accurate.
This seems hypocritical, since state government is itself riddled with inaccuracies.
State revenue forecasts are routinely off by millions of dollars.
Gov. Paul LePage often offers contradictory explanations for removing a mural depicting the history of the labor movement from a state building.
And politicians routinely make absurd charges they can’t back up.
But if you’re pumping gas, it’s got to be on the money every time.
Hardly seems fair.
Nevertheless, several gasoline stations have been cited in recent months for nozzles that don’t meet state standards, in one case charging customers $3.5 million a gallon. The owner of the offending pump couldn’t be reached for comment because he was vacationing at his chateau on the Mediterranean, but his stateside valet said his boss had no prior knowledge of the error and would correct it as soon as he finished paying off his yacht and horse-racing stables.
In Portland, once a hotbed of the Prohibition movement, the desire to outlaw random activities remains strong. After all, this is a city that once elected Neal Dow, the father of the temperance movement, as mayor. It’s the place that tried to ban chain restaurants. And to this day, Portland does not permit teenagers to have sex on its park benches. Even with parental permission slips (“If they’re going to do it, we’d prefer they not mess up the beds at home”).
So, I suppose it should come as no surprise that Portland does not permit vendors at its weekly farmers markets to sell any of the following products:
Sausages made from the meat of endangered species.
Knickknacks containing enriched uranium.
Much to my amazement, the only one of these onerous rules that’s being challenged is the last one. Dairy farmers are asking the City Council to rescind the ban on unpasteurized moo juice. Which could be tough to do, because there isn’t one. Portland bureaucrats have interpreted the rules as saying that if a product isn’t specifically permitted, it can’t be sold. Since the regulations don’t mention raw milk, it’s out.
Keep in mind that raw milk is sold at most other farmers markets in the state and in supermarkets. I haven’t checked, but I bet you could even buy it in bars – if anybody went to bars to order drinks that contained raw milk (“I’ll have an Allen’s coffee brandy, and, bartender, please cut it with pure, unpasteurized milk, because it’s more healthful and refreshing than the processed kind”).
Councilors say they’re willing to consider raw milk sales. Someday. After they’ve studied the idea.
After all, they don’t want to rush into anything and make another mistake like Prohibition.
Al Diamon is descended from bootleggers and proud of it. When not making the weekly run, he can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org