Anne Arundel County government, already drafting criteria for licensing bingo halls in the wake of scandal possibly linked with organized crime, now is poised to review standards for allowing "adult" reading and on-premises film viewing. The flash point for this review is a bid by separate corporate entities with common backers -- Magura and Tokai Enterprises -- to open adult book/video stores and peep shows in, respectively, Glen Burnie and Odenton.
The Odenton proposal has drawn little initial community objection. But some Glen Burnie residents alertly and loudly sounded off upon hearing of the proposal that would open a store on Crain Highway on the edge of their old, stable neighborhood. Understandably, they want no repeat of problems an array of "adult entertainment" ventures generated on Crain Highway in the '60s and '70s. Those ventures eventually vanished in a blur of arson, other criminal activity and even rumored organized crime involvement.
To that end, County Councilman Edward Middlebrooks, D-Glen Burnie, and Vice Chairman David G. Boschert, D-Crownsville, last week proposed a county-wide moratorium on issuing the type of business license Magura and Tokai need. During the moratorium, council members would have the Neall administration "study regulations concerning adult book stores and film-viewing machines." The council is scheduled to hear arguments Aug. 5. If members approve, the moratorium and the review would begin immediately.
Dealing with the sale of "adult" (sexually explicit) material is difficult because of legal vagaries that go as high as the Supreme Court in defining obscenity in relation to community standards. This classic debate always boils down to one person's art and free expression under the Bill of Rights being another's obscenity. A lawyer representing Magura and Tokai, who incidentally declines to name the ventures' backers or even say where they are from, already is draping the case with First Amendment trappings.
The peep show element of these businesses seems another matter. Are peep shows -- typically sexually-explicit, coin-operated films or tapes viewed privately on premises -- the same as movies? If so, they could be subject to zoning restraints on how close cinemas can be to residential areas.
County law and regulations don't address the issue specifically, however. Also muddying the water is the presence of at least one other peep show in the greater Annapolis area.
The Anne Arundel County Council should impose the moratorium. Then, it should deal with this issue directly and decisively.