From moonshine to meth
by Jim Ruth Bradley County Sheriff
Nov 04, 2012 | 1845 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The history of moonshine in America had its roots in Scotland and Ireland. It all began with the Scots and Irish bringing their knowledge of distilling with them to America.

The making of moonshine whiskey caught on in a big way, especially, in Appalachia, because of the economics of it. In the early days a few barrels of whiskey was all that it took to purchase land or a farm. So, in areas where it was difficult to make a good living, people resorted to making whiskey.

In doing a little research on the topic of moonshine, I learned an interesting fact about it. Most of us have watched television programs or cartoons that depicted three x’s (XXX) on the side of moonshine jugs. If you are like me, you probably never knew what that meant, or didn’t realize that it had a meaning at all.

Well, it does have one. It signifies that the moonshine has been put through the distilling process three times. You might ask, “What was the purpose of that?” The answer is that the result is almost pure alcohol, which is usually above 80 proof, and it is without unwanted flavors.

Well, if you think the making of moonshine in America is a thing of the past, you are wrong. In some areas of the country it is still in production, although not as widespread as before. Law enforcement officers are still arresting people for it. Just this past weekend an arrest for it was made in Bradley County, just off 15th Street N.E.

Now, for my real reason for writing this column. While moonshine production is still going on, it is not the scourge that the trafficking of methamphetamine is in our country now.

Our local police reporter for the Cleveland Daily Banner, Greg Kaylor, has called meth the “Moonshine of the New Millennium.”

Actually, meth trafficking and use is one of the most widespread and destructive problems this country has ever faced. It is everywhere around the country. It is produced and distributed by both local and international traffickers.

The most common way that meth is produced is by using the ephedrine/pseudoephedrine reduction method. Meth production in this way is dependent upon ready access to quantities of ephedrine/pseudoephedrine.

As I mentioned before, local meth producers depend on “smurfs” to help them purchase as much of these ingredients as possible. Internationally, meth producers, such as those of Mexico’s organized crime groups, depend upon acquiring bulk quantities of ephedrine/pseudoephedrine. In recent years several bulk quantities of these ingredients have been seized on their way to Mexico.

The problem is that law-enforcement officers are in a losing battle with meth producers related to the obtaining of these ephedrine ingredients. The former want to cut off these chemical supplies to producers of meth, while the latter want continued success in obtaining these supplies from nonregulated sources. Certainly, experience has shown us that meth makers are creative and relentless in finding new ways to obtain the needed chemicals. As it is now, meth is by far the most prevalent, synthetic controlled substance in America.

Producing meth is just one of the most recent ways of making money — progressing economically, while feeding people’s addictions — just like the country’s moonshiners.

When I first started in law enforcement there were moonshine stills that were still in operation. In the early 1970s, I took part in busting up at least one of these operations.

During my 40 years as a lawman in Bradley County, I have witnessed a progression in organized crime. Just like in the movie “Thunder Road,” we had some in the area who transported moonshine. Others transported untaxed, bottled liquor to bootleggers, who resold it for a good profit.

Over the years in our area we have had criminals affiliated, some loosely, with a crime organization in the south known as the “Dixie Mafia.” These criminals progressed from the whiskey business to drugs and car theft operations to armed robberies to theft of heavy equipment and sometimes to a mixture of two or more of these for their easy economic gain. Of course, today the trafficking of addictive drugs of every kind is the primary way of illicit profiteering.

Was moonshine a problem to our families and our country? Did it ruin lives? Of course the answer is yes. But, moonshine has not caused the problems and destruction of lives on the scale that meth has done and is doing. Also, what meth is costing this country and our states is astronomical.

As I mentioned before, the meth problem in Tennessee is costing over $1 billion a year.

We have a real need for a more progressive, adequately staffed Sheriff’s Office here in Bradley County. When you add the drug problems to all of the crimes that we in law enforcement have to deal with, I think you can see that.

Thanks for reading.