4 Things You Won't Believe It's Illegal to Buy in America
Everyone likes shopping, whether they admit it or not. Spending money on things you like is good times. At least it should be good times.
We're all well aware of the more common shopping complaints. Crowds, malls, people, parking lots ... it's all terrible. There are a few lesser known problems with shopping out there as well, and most of them are forced upon us by legislators and lawmakers. Rules put in place from way up high that make shopping a pain in the ass for the people like us, way down below. We talk about one of the biggest "shopping restrictions" of all on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by comics Lou Perez and David Huntsberger. For the purpose of this column, though, I'll kick things off by going in a slightly different direction.
Sex Toys Are Illegal in Alabama
Is it really true that you can't buy sex toys in Alabama? It sure is! The law has its own Wikipedia page and everything. It's called the Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act, and it absolutely legislates what men and women can and cannot put in their various sex spots. It was originally intended only as a measure to prevent nude dancing, meaning fuck it still, but it has since expanded to include the purchase of any and all sex toys.
There is one allowance, though, in that Alabama understands that, sometimes, you're just going to have to show someone a dick to further their education. For those people, a clause exists that allows the sale of certain items for educational or medical purposes. So, let's say you're a high school sex ed teacher in Alabama and ... just joking, you know Alabama doesn't have sex ed anymore. I'm sure it's been replaced with Bible study or advanced sandwich artistry by now.
Having to carry the work home with you is the hardest part of any teacher's job.
Still, they do allow that, so at least it's not a completely unreasonable law, right? You know I wouldn't ask that question if it was. See, even with the educational/medical exemption, you still have to fill out a questionnaire that covers all facets of your sexual history and inclinations. Does a medical reason for a dildo exist? I'm sure one does, and if that's the case, at some point in history, some low-level hospital employee has no doubt been tasked with purchasing one somewhere and in the process had to admit that they sometimes like it in the butt.
It's a thing with nurses.
If you think the law is crazy, wait until you hear how it briefly got overturned. In 2005, a novelties dealer named Sherri Williams teamed with the ACLU to challenge the law, arguing that the case of Lawrence v. Texas, which finally granted Texans the right to have consensual gay sex, set a clear precedent for allowing sex toys in Alabama. Fucking how? It doesn't matter, because somehow the courts agreed, and the sex toy ban was overturned ... briefly. A few short months later, the decision was overturned by the appeals court.
Nary a pocket pussy has been seen in Alabama since.
The World's Favorite Artificial Sweetener Is Banned for No Reason
If you're a fan of conspiracy theories, I'd like to introduce you to sodium cyclamate. It's an artificial sweetener that I talked about once before way back when I was a little feature-writing puppy. Its street name is "magic sugar," and in practically every other country in the world, its use is allowed without restriction. Think of pretty much any "sugar-free" item in America. In most countries, the artificial sweetener that makes it palatable is sodium cyclamate.
The soccer of sugar substitutes.
In the United States, though, sodium cyclamate has been outlawed since way back in 1969, when FDA scientist Dr. Jacqueline Verrett went on NBC Nightly News to inform the world that, after tests in which she injected baby birds with sodium cyclamate while still in the egg, most were born with birth defects.
Chicks can be so cruel sometimes.
She even brought pictures, you guys. Do you want to see one?
Neither do I, and the people watching NBC that night certainly didn't want to see any more than they already had, so it was widely agreed that this third nipple-causing calorie saver must be jettisoned from grocery store shelves nationwide.
So here's a question: Why is it still available everywhere else? Well, because the science behind Verrett's study was a bit flawed. For one thing, humans don't consume their artificial sweeteners by way of direct injection. If we could still taste it that way, we probably would, but alas, we do not. Further tests were done, though, and it was revealed that out of 240 rats, eight of them developed bladder cancer when given sodium cyclamate. How much sodium cyclamate, you ask? Just the equivalent of a person consuming 350 cans of soda per day, which I'm not sure is even scientifically possible.
But today, these people will try, for science.
Even better, not a single subsequent test has been able to replicate the findings of these two studies from 1969.
So, while the rest of the world agreed that this ban was a farce, for some reason the United States stands firm in their refusal to let us eat magic sugar. This is the kind of story that gets tinfoil hat types in a total uproar. Does the government know something that the rest of the world doesn't? Are they withholding it to protect us or to harm us? Are we sending Coke and Pepsi out into the world to deliver sodium cyclamate because we know it will help us win one day? Was the Cold War just a ruse meant to distract us from the far more important Cola Wars? Is it just a money thing?
The possibilities are endless, unless you're talking about the possibility of drinking soda sweetened with sodium cyclamate in the United States. Still not possible.
Pumping Your Own Gas Is Outlawed in Oregon
I wonder how many people have already tuned out to leave a comment about how you also can't pump your own gas in New Jersey. I hope it's a lot. I like to give people a lot of outs when reading my stuff. It's so long!
Anyway, it's true: In the states of New Jersey and Oregon, you are not allowed to pump your own gas. Why this is the case is a question people have been asking for quite some time, as evidenced by the mountains of answers to the question already available on the Internet. This Mental Floss article attributes it to both states just not trusting you to not blow shit up when you pump your own gas.
Honestly, I don't trust most of you, either.
As a result, gas station attendants have to go through a safety training course designed with nothing else in mind than seeing to it that the arthritic 75-year-old who's currently entering his sixth decade in the gas pumping game doesn't accidentally set you ablaze while you wait in your vehicle. Because that always makes for the worst gas station trip ever, am I right? The one where you're just trying to enjoy your day when some lug nut accidentally sets himself on fire?
Actually, the safety argument did probably hold some water back before measures were put in place that made pumping gas a less explosion-laden experience. Of course, those measures started showing up as early as the 1940s, and self-service stations started becoming the law of the land shortly thereafter ... except in Oregon and New Jersey.
Just more evidence that I've forgotten New Jersey. No reading necessary!
It's hard to imagine that this boils down to anything other than money. Obviously, a lot of jobs would be lost if the bans were lifted, but I doubt it's the gas-pumping jobs people are worried about. Especially not gas station owners. Additional training probably means paying more and all sorts of other hassles they'd prefer to eliminate if they could.
No, I imagine the answer lies somewhere in the framework needed at the state level to keep a stupid law like this in place. That red tape and hassle probably keeps food on a lot of tables in those states, and somehow, they've managed to successfully argue for their existence for decades now. Of course, state law means state agencies. In Oregon, things apparently run through the Cardlock Program, which is funded through license and customer fees. In other words, repealing these laws would result in gas stations no longer having to pay money to the state.
While it's definitely a bullshit law, the real victims here appear to be the gas and oil companies. If that's the case, I care a lot less.
New Jersey's Premier Shopping Destination Bans Shopping on Sundays
Most everyone is familiar with the concept of blue laws. Basically, they're measures enacted to restrict the sale of certain items at certain times. Like how you can't buy liquor on Sundays in some states. These tend to be laws enacted back when people took their religion seriously. Like Puritans and shit. That party-rocking group gets the blame for Minnesota's blue laws, which used to ban everything from working to making loud noises on Sunday. In most cases, common sense prevailed, and these measures were overturned at various points throughout history. Bans on auto sales and liquor remain, again, because that's what the Puritans wanted.
These people keep you from getting hammered on Sunday.
Several states in the Northeast, including Maine, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, still observe shopping restrictions from the Puritan days, but no one in that region puts blue laws to more insane use than New Jersey.
Specifically, Paramus, New Jersey, which was once ranked the 21st best place to live ... in New Jersey.
To be fair, Newark didn't even make the list.
That seems like a fairly low showing, considering it's in the heart of Bergen County, which happens to be the most visited shopping destination in the state. Even better, Paramus itself is home to the biggest malls in the county. So, within that retail kingdom, Paramus is king. And they fucking act like it.
As you've probably gathered, blue laws are the problem. Bergen County has lots of them, but none are as restrictive as what Paramus makes people deal with. Essentially, on Sundays in Paramus, New Jersey, you can't buy anything. The words used are "worldly employment," if that gives you any idea of what kind of things you can't do. There are a few exceptions. You can still buy food and medications. Just because it's a law intended to serve one specific religion doesn't mean it's not flexible. Hey, there's even an exclusion for cigarettes, because religious people are sometimes huge hypocrites.
This sign actually means cigarettes are exempt from the laws of God.
No booze, though. No booze, no clothes, no shoes, no video games ... no "worldly" fun, basically. It's that word that makes this seem like a law driven by dedication to Jesus, but it's definitely not. The real problem is traffic. Because it's such a heavily visited shopping destination, Bergen County in general is plagued with traffic jams on a daily basis.
Paramus is basically this and malls.
They don't keep their blue laws on the books to respect the Lord; they keep them on the books so you stay the fuck out of Paramus, New Jersey, for at least one day each week.
Does that sound dickish to you? If so, you're the dick. It's not like they aren't giving anything up by asking for a day of solitude each week. Did you see the part where I said Paramus is the biggest shopping destination in the state? People would spend a lot of money there on Sundays if they could, probably on a wide variety of things. Nevertheless, voters in Paramus have shot down every attempt to overturn the blue laws and have vowed to do so from now until the end of time.
See, some things in life really are more important than money. It just so happens that you staying the fuck out of town for a day is one of those things. Good for them.
Adam would like to thank Diana Cook for her help with this article and for introducing him to the best puppy in the world. We miss you, Roxy.