We've identified a drug that's the leading cause of preventable death and morbidity, globally and in Aotearoa.
A leading economics firm estimates its harm costs our country $7.85 billion, annually. It features significantly in emergency services call-outs, often where violence or aggression is found. It's a group one carcinogen, substantially increasing risks of cancer.
We shouldn't prohibit this drug, because prohibition would not get rid of it.
Prohibition has failed miserably at getting rid of any drug, tending to only make those drugs and their consumption far more harmful. Whether it's an unfettered, legal free market or criminal prohibition, you've got either corporations or criminal organisations doing their best to shift as much of their product as possible, largely comfortable exploiting vulnerable communities to make a fortune.
This drug – the nation's most harmful – is, of course, alcohol. Like cannabis, it will exist regardless of whether it's legal or not. Always has.
The question before us is whether we want to deal with the evidence to sensibly reduce that harm. Throughout the cannabis referendum debate, opponents told me that alcohol was a failure of drug regulation and that we couldn't risk dragging any other drug out of the shadows and into regulation because... alcohol was so poorly regulated.
They never really want to talk about regulating alcohol better, prompting the question of whether they actually cared about harm reduction in the first place or just whataboutism.
As the luck of our democratic biscuit tin would have it, they can't dodge the debate anymore.
Last week my Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Harm Minimisation) Amendment Bill was drawn from our Parliament's lottery for member's bills, meaning it will be up for debate in the next few months. It's been sitting in that ballot for a year.
In that time, we've received unprecedented support from local authorities across the country thanks, in massive part, to tireless advocacy by Alcohol Healthwatch. So far, councils in Auckland, Christchurch, Whanganui, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Waipa, Hauraki and Gisborne have endorsed the draft law, asking Parliament to get on with it.
These local authorities represent more than half of the population of this country and each have their own local stories of alcohol harm. Many also have stories of a broken and unenforceable law.
Auckland and Christchurch have each spent more than $1 million trying to implement communities' aspirations in Local Alcohol Policies, only to be dragged through the courts by supermarkets, bottle shops and vested interests by way of special appeals.
Those special appeals don't exist for any other social harm, like pokies or tobacco.
Primarily because of these special appeals, years on from the passage of the supposedly enabling legislation, none of our major cities have Local Alcohol Policies. Towns and cities who do have had to water them down substantially.
The Bill would get rid of those special appeals processes, as uncharacteristically recommended – it's deeply unusual for them to take a policy position – by the Crown's own Health Promotion Agency.
The second part of the Bill would deal with recommendations that have been languishing since the then-National Government commissioned Sir Graham Lowe to tackle alcohol harm as related to sport, then ignored the outcome. Labour hasn't been any better on the issue. Last term's Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry and the Safe and Effective Justice Review recommended implementing Sir Graham's 2014 recommendations, along with 2010 Law Commission Review findings.
Sir Graham's review recommended reducing exposure to alcohol advertising in sport. Those recommendations were made alongside recommendations to decriminalise personal consumption of currently illicit substances, because, again, prohibition causes far more harm by driving sale and supply underground. Sensible regulation, though, much like logical consistency, seem largely anathema to mainstream political thinking.
The alcohol lobby has already fired up, proclaiming the Government needs to wait until they do yet another promised review, this time on the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012.
Never mind the mountain of reviews, inquiries and recommendations already conveniently ignored after being commissioned by Governments of successive stripes for the past 10 years.
There's a reason that in the draft law for cannabis regulation we pre-emptively banned sponsorship and advertising and empowered communities to restrict where cannabis could be sold. The plan was to deal with the reality that cannabis exists. Legal regulation wasn't supposed to be exciting or a boon to commercial players.
Our country voted by the thinnest margin we've ever seen in a referendum to keep cannabis in the black market just two years ago. But we're still yet to hear anything but crickets about tackling the most harmful drug in our community – alcohol – from the ideologues who drove the cannabis prohibition campaign.
I guess we'll all see for ourselves soon enough if those debates ever actually were about community wellbeing.
• Chlöe Swarbrick, Green Party, is the MP for Auckland Central.