Our Real Deal Cannabis Reform was based around the idea of reducing overall harm to both individuals and society. One of the most startling facts to discover as part of this process was that the drug that causes the most harm to New Zealand society – by a long way – is actually alcohol. Both alcohol and cannabis are prevalent in our society and enjoyed by a huge number of New Zealanders, however alcohol creates more than four times the total harm.
Alcohol is responsible for 4% of avoidable deaths – that is 600-800 people per year – and around $6b of total costs to society. Half of those deaths come from injuries such as violence and car crashes. On weekends, around 2 in 3 injury related admissions to Accident and Emergency are because of alcohol. Alcohol has a huge impact on people’s lives far beyond the resulting police and hospital bills; it is also a major driver of sexual offending and family violence.
The problem is that the framework for regulating alcohol has been relaxed over the last decade or two. Indeed alcohol regulation is far weaker than what we recommended for cannabis. Thankfully international and local studies have set out the key actions that are needed. The National Government has taken steps on some of these actions, although their attempt to allow local areas to set their own rules for the sale of alcohol has proved toothless and needs fixing.
The two main areas that require urgent attention to reduce alcohol harm are the legal drinking age and the excise duty. The legal drinking age was reduced from 20 to 18 in 1999 and there is evidence that this has increased harm, particularly by lowering the ‘de facto’ drinking age to 14-17. The excise duty on alcohol has not been increased in years, so alcohol has become much more affordable, driving an increase in use.
The Opportunities Party (TOP) recommends increasing the legal age for alcohol purchase to 20 years, and increasing the price of alcohol by an average of 10% through excise tax. The $300m revenue from this will be used to provide a much needed injection of funds into community based youth mental health support and drug and alcohol treatment.