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State Rep. Edith H. Ajello, D-Providence, recently said legalizing and regulating marijuana in Rhode Island would make it tougher for young people to get the drug, in part by cutting off the underground market that sells to minors and flourishes while marijuana is outlawed.
In a Feb. 6, 2013, Providence Journal story about her bill to legalize marijuana, Ajello said that after years of making marijuana illegal, "Lots of studies seem to indicate that minors find it very easy to get marijuana, easier than to get alcohol."
Ajello’s proposal calls for allowing people 21 or older to carry an ounce or less of marijuana and would require regulations for selling, growing and taxation of the drug.
We wondered if it’s really true, as Ajello says, that it’s easier for young people to get marijuana than alcohol.
After we contacted Ajello, we heard from Mason Tvert, an advocate for regulating the use of marijuana rather than prohibiting it. He referred us to various studies.
But we had already found the annual National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse, which reports that in each of the past three years, young people reported that it was in fact easier to get alcohol than to get marijuana -- the opposite of what Ajello said.
The most recent edition of that survey, which is conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, and released in August 2012, said "teens have readier access to alcohol than prescription drugs or marijuana within an hour and within a day."
Tvert mentioned the same study, noting that from 2002 through 2009 it found that teens thought it was easier to buy marijuana than beer. But, in 2010, the survey changed the wording of the question, asking teenagers whether it was easier to get marijuana than alcohol -- the wording Ajello used.
From 2010 through 2012, the survey states, 26 to 27 percent of teenagers said they could get beer within an hour while 13 to 15 percent of teens said they could get marijuana within an hour.
During the same three-year period, the range for teens who said they could get beer within a day was 46 to 50 percent, while for marijuana within a day it was 29 to 31 percent. (More teens also said they could illegally get prescription drugs within an hour or a day than marijuana).
Why did the wording change?
"Research suggested that teens frequently get substances including tobacco, alcohol and drugs from friends and families," rather than buying them, said Emily Feinstein, program director, Policy to Practice, at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
Indeed, another study, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, states that 7.7 percent of people ages 12 to 20 in 2011 said that they purchased the alcohol themselves the last time they drank. A little more than 30 percent of that age group said they paid for the the last alcohol they drank. (The study didn’t ask teens about the ease of purchasing marijuana.)
And the Monitoring the Future study, which is conducted at the University of Michigan and has surveyed about 50,000 8th, 10th and 12th graders in the United States yearly since the 1970s, has found that alcohol access is consistently reported by students in all three grades to be the number-one substance that is "fairly easy" or "very easy" to get.
Monitoring the Future’s 2012 survey found:
* Nearly 58 percent of 8th graders said it was fairly easy or very easy to get alcohol compared with 37 percent saying the same of marijuana
* More than 78 percent of 10th graders said alcohol was fairly easy or very easy to get while just shy of 69 percent said the same of marijuana.
* Almost 91 percent of 12th graders said alcohol was fairly easy or very easy to get compared with nearly 82 percent saying the same for marijuana.
Monitoring the Future found that students in the three grade levels said every year that alcohol was more easily available than marijuana. According to the Monitoring the Future survey figures, availability of alcohol has decreased since the 1990s -- but so has marijuana availability.
Other studies suggested by Tvert did not address directly teens’ ease of access to marijuana or alcohol. Those studies did say that in the past few years there has been an increase in marijuana use among teenagers, after a period in which use had declined.
Rep. Edith H. Ajello said, "Lots of studies seem to indicate that minors find it very easy to get marijuana, easier than to get alcohol."
The verb choice and timing of Ajello’s comment proved crucial here. If she’d referred to how easily young people could purchase one or the other, and she’d said it in 2009, there would be more support.
But all the most recent, credible, national studies we found showed that teenagers report it’s easier to get alcohol than marijuana.
We rate the claim as False.
(If you have a claim you’d like PolitiFact Rhode Island to check, e-mail us at [email protected] And follow us on Twitter: @politifactri.)
CASAColumbia, "National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse," August 2012, page 29, accessed Feb. 11-13, 2013
CASAColumbia, "National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse," August 2009, page 13, accessed Feb. 14, 2013
Monitoring the Future, "Monitoring the Future National Results on Drug Use 2012 Overview," pages 80-83, accessed Feb. 11-13, 2013
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, "Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings," September 2012, accessed on Feb. 14, 2013
Interviews, Emily Feinstein, program director, Policy to Practice, National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, Feb. 13-14, 2013
Interview and e-mails, Mason Tvert, director of communications, Marijuana Policy Project, Feb. 11, 2013
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