Supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana last week unrolled the latest bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis, saying it could mean up to $58 million in tax revenue and give the state an economic boost.
But those on the other side of the debate caution that legalization would lead to greater consumption of the drug and other social problems. Rhode Islanders may end up driving impaired and endangering others, for example. Minors would find it even easier to obtain the drug, even if it would remain illegal for people under age 21 under the proposed law, they said.
One such opponent is Nancy DeNuccio, chairwoman of the Ocean State Prevention Alliance, a coalition that aims to limit the impact of marijuana on youth.
In a WJAR-10 news report about the latest legalization legislation, DeNuccio expressed her concern about the potential consequences to young people of legalizing marijuana for adults.
"We've seen the increase of alcohol use for under age kids even though alcohol has been illegal ... for kids under 21," she said.
After a reader asked us to check her statement, we called DeNuccio, who immediately told us that she’d misspoken, that it was a mistake.
Still, we decided that we’d look into her claim because whatever we found might help inform our readers as lawmakers take up the debate. Also, the statement was made in a television interview that remains publicly available.
We found our answer in data from the Centers for Disease Control’s national Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
It shows that, in Rhode Island, the percentage of teens who reported drinking alcohol at least once in the past 30 days had fallen dramatically since 1997 -- from 52 percent in 1997 to 31 percent in 2013.
Similarly, the number of state high schoolers who said they consumed alcohol beyond a sip or two before age 13 had dropped over the same period, from 34 percent to 14 percent.
The same goes for the percentage of teenagers who said they had five or more drinks in a row at least once in the past 30 days. Those numbers decreased from 32 percent in 1997 to 15 percent in 2013.
As for the percentage of Rhode Island high schoolers who reported consuming at least one alcoholic beverage in their lifetime, those numbers dropped from a high of 79 percent in 2001 to a low of 62 percent in 2011.
The Rhode Island numbers mirror what has been reported around the country. Nationally, the percentages of teenagers reporting drinking declined in three of the same four criteria. The only category to remain static was the percentage of high schoolers who said they drank five or more drinks in one sitting at least once in the past 30 days. Those numbers showed gains and losses throughout the time period, keeping it steady, according to the survey.
Nancy DeNuccio said, "We've seen the increase of alcohol use for underage kids even though alcohol has been illegal ... for kids under 21."
We note that DeNuccio immediately acknowledged that she had misspoken.
Given the evidence we found, we rate the claim False