The histories of gasoline and ethanol (“drinking alcohol”) go back for more than a century. Ethanol fueled Henry Ford’s Model T in 1908. It was first blended with gasoline in the 1920s and 1930s, a practice that was revived in the 1970s and continues to this day.
In the United States, the conflict over gasoline-ethanol mostly concerns corn crops, public subsidies and government mandates. Here in the Cayman Islands, it’s a bit different.
As our readers saw on the front page of Monday’s Compass, the local controversy doesn’t involve what’s sold at the pump for the purpose of combustion, but what’s sold inside convenience stores for the purpose of intoxication.
Put another way, should Cayman’s gas stations be allowed to obtain liquor licenses and sell beer, wine and spirits?
“But don’t they already?” some readers might respond. True, one gas station in George Town and two in Bodden Town are currently allowed to sell intoxicating beverages, but that’s under the terms of licenses that were “grandfathered in” decades ago.
Objecting to a new liquor license application by developer Gary Rutty, who is building a Rubis station on Shamrock Road, license holders Robert Hamaty, Prentice Panton and David Khouri wrote that, “It has been government’s policy since 2002 not to grant liquor licenses to gas stations,” pointing to an order from Cabinet to the Liquor Licensing Board to that effect.
The objectors continue, “If this new license is granted, how will the Liquor Licensing Board justify refusing applications from the 22 other stations on [Grand Cayman]?”
That’s a valid question for the board to consider — but, seen through the eyes of the consumer, it’s not the most important one.
From the general population’s perspective, we would ask, “Why does Grand Cayman have an appointed Liquor Licensing Board in the first place?” (And the related, “Why do the Sister Islands have their own liquor board?”)
Speaking frankly, we don’t know what the board should or shouldn’t do with Mr. Rutty’s application, in the context of the objection, the Cabinet order, “grandfathered-in” licenses, the appearance of setting precedent, or potential ramifications to the house of cards the liquor industry has erected under the board’s supervision.
In fact, the way we see it, each of those points constitutes an argument against the structure of the current regulatory apparatus, and perhaps the existence of the board itself.
In these changing (and already changed) times, it’s not simply that the appointed board is an anachronism; it’s that the pretense of regulating alcohol as a “controlled substance” on an island packed to the brim with bars, clubs, restaurants, hotels, stores, ships and sundry other dispensaries is an obvious fiction. Allowing one — or 100 — gas stations to sell alcohol isn’t going to encourage a single person to start drinking, or to start drinking more.
(And don’t get us started on the liquor board’s other directive, “music and dancing licenses.”)
We don’t understand the necessity of injecting an appointed board in the middle of what should be an administrative, tick-the-box exercise between the license applicant and, say, the Department of Commerce and Investment.
Philosophically, we aren’t in favor of having more or fewer retailers. We do support free enterprise and capitalism.
“Should gas stations be selling liquor?” As far as the free market is concerned, here’s an equally valid question: “Should liquor stores be installing gas pumps?”