I’ve had a few weeks off booze for the first time in a while.
I’m not a massive drinker. But I enjoy a drink. I do. I always have. A few craft beers.. a few glasses of wine... a couple of gins of an evening. Normally I drink some alcohol two days a week. Maybe three days, some weeks? I hate feeling hungover, so I don’t go too crazy, and I like to think I have a pretty healthy relationship with alcohol. But then, don’t we all? That can be a bit of a subjective thing.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about our attitudes to alcohol lately. I was watching Sunday a couple of weeks ago and a story about foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. I’m ashamed to say I knew next to nothing about it... I had no idea it was so prevalent, or that people with FASD have such little government support.
But a couple of numbers referenced in the story really stuck out to me.
First of all.. the experts reckoned about half of all New Zealand pregnancies have alcohol exposure. Half. That’s because women often don’t know they’re pregnant and are drinking alcohol in the early stages of pregnancy. But half! That’s a huge percentage.
Here’s a number that perhaps shocked me even more. The Children’s Commissioner, Judge Andrew Becroft, reckoned that if you took alcohol out of the court system... you’d take 80% of the serious violence and serious offending out of the courts. 80%.
Now I’m not advocating for prohibition. God no. First of all, prohibition clearly doesn’t work. And secondly, I think many people (but not all people) can have a reasonable and healthy relationship with alcohol. Like I say, I enjoy a drink, and once a fortnight we even get a pick from Bob, our Master of Wine, on this show.
But consider alcohol in the context of the cannabis referendum this year, and I think we may have one of the greatest hypocrisies of our society.
It struck me actually, when I landed back home in February after summer overseas, that the very first product anyone is offered when they arrive in New Zealand.. the SINGLE FIRST items offered to them... are three bottles of gin for a hundred bucks. Sure.. Duty Free stores are the same everywhere. But most of us are so normalised to it, we don’t even blink. We just take it for granted. You don’t even have an option not to walk past the stands of grog. Hāere Mai, welcome to New Zealand. Fancy a deal on three litres of liquor?
I wonder.. how many of the people who plan to vote ‘No’ in the cannabis referendum next month are totally fine with billboards everywhere shilling for booze? With ads on TV featuring movie stars selling whiskey? Who don’t have a problem whatsoever with our top sports teams being sponsored by beer companies.
Of course, cannabis causes damage too. I’m not suggesting it doesn’t. But cannabis would be much, much more regulated than alcohol is in our society. There would be no ads on TV, no billboards, no All Blacks sponsorship. The kids wouldn’t be walking past gleaming stands of cannabis at the airport, or rows upon rows of different cannabis products next to the fruit and veggies at the supermarket.
Alcohol makes many people aggressive and violent. Cannabis makes them sleepy and hungry.
And look... maybe you’ll say it’s because alcohol causes so much harm in New Zealand, we can’t afford any more drugs to become normalised.
I’d find that argument much easier to accept if the people who so vehemently oppose cannabis legalisation put half as much effort into calling for change when it comes to alcohol, as well.