Mark Sainsbury: Are we too immature to handle the drink

Gareth Morgan supports raising the drinking age to 20.
Gareth Morgan supports raising the drinking age to 20. Photo credit: Getty

OPINION: Oh the joy of being a small party. You can call things as you see them without the fear of it costing you your support base - because no one knows who your support base is.

The Opportunities Party's Gareth Morgan did exactly that on The AM Show this morning, saying he supported the drinking age being raised to 20.

Back in 1999 MPs voted 59 to 55 to lower the drinking age to 18 and conventional wisdom says once you drop it, it becomes impossible to raise it again.

But conventional political wisdom has been undone recently. And if young voters tend not to vote then it's also not as risky a strategy as first thought.

Young brains are susceptible to stimulants. If marijuana is ever legalised you can bet the legal age won't be 18. Most medical opinion supports the belief the developing brain can be impaired by marijuana so there's no way it could be legalised for an age where it's more likely to do harm.

So if we're prepared to impose a 20-plus age for cannabis why are we so shy around alcohol?

And yes, I can hear it now, we can go to war and get married and vote, so why shouldn't we be able to buy alcohol at 18?

To me it's a harm mitigation argument. We are not like France and Italy, our attitude to alcohol is not as mature and alcohol would never make the cut if invented today. So the question is not whether we can vote or get married at 18, it's whether we can handle a potentially dangerous intoxicant.

When Sir Geoffrey Palmer was doing a Law Commission report into the sale of liquor in 2009 he was left aghast after being taken out on a Friday night to watch Kiwi drinking culture up close.

The report suggested tightening up on liquor availability, and while it said leave the age for going into pubs and clubs at 18 it wanted the age for buying from bottle shops raised to 20.

The majority of countries around the world have a minimum age of 18 or 19. There are exceptions: in the USA it's 21 and in China there is no minimum age.

So is it us? Are we as a country too immature to handle the drink?

Mark Sainsbury hosts Morning Talk from 9am-midday on RadioLIVE.