(ANTIMEDIA) Jonesville, VA — Last week, the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) and the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission arrested a 73-year-old man for producing and selling moonshine.
Though “moonshine” conjures 1920s prohibition-era images of dangerously potent liquor brewed in bathtubs, the term simply refers to liquor produced without a license or unaged whiskey.
Winston Delano Terry of Jonesville, Virginia, now faces felony and misdemeanor charges following a four-month investigation that ultimately yielded 67 gallons of moonshine and 22 guns after authorities obtained a warrant to search his home.
The government insists moonshine is a threat to public safety, a claim bolstered by the fact that homemade liquor is more likely to have lead in it. As Slate has pointed out, “there’s no inspection of the manufacturing process, so quality — and levels of contamination — vary.” Even so, drinking moonshine is hardly a greater threat to the public than “legal” alcohol.
“Aside from drinking too much and doing something dumb — oh, like attacking somebody with a chain saw and fire extinguisher — the biggest risk is lead poisoning, since a homemade still might consist of car radiators or pipes that were dangerously soldered together,” Slate noted.
In other words, the greatest danger of moonshine is to the person who chooses to consume it, as with most other drugs — legal or not. Though authorities may insist they are doing a public service (NBC Washington reported that “ABC’s chief operating officer said the charges against Terry help protect public safety”), the primary reason moonshine is illegal is far less altruistic.
As Slate explained:
“Because the liquor is worth more to the government than beer or wine. Uncle Sam takes an excise tax of $2.14 for each 750-milliliter bottle of 80-proof spirits, compared with 21 cents for a bottle of wine (of 14 percent alcohol or less) and 5 cents for a can of beer.”
The ban on moonshine is about guaranteeing revenue for the government at both the federal and state level. It’s no surprise Virginia authorities seek out illegal alcohol producers; the state levies a tax of $19.19 per gallon, one of the highest rates in the nation.
“No one knows exactly how much money changes hands in the moonshine trade, but it’s certainly enough for the missing taxes to make a difference: In 2000, an ATF investigation busted one Virginia store that sold enough raw materials to moonshiners to make 1.4 million gallons of liquor, worth an estimated $19.6 million in lost government revenue. In 2005, almost $5 billion of federal excise taxes on alcohol came from legally produced spirits.”
In 1978, the government made it legal for Americans to make their own beer and wine at home in small amounts, but liquor production remains illegal. Though “prohibition” in 2017 often refers to cannabis, alcohol in the United States remains heavily regulated and constitutes a large revenue stream for authorities.
As a result, busts like the one against Winston Terry continue to occur while legal alcohol, which is also wildly dangerous to human health, remains legal — as long as the government gets its cut.