LOS ANGELES — Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson charged Tuesday that the "war on drugs" was manufactured for political gain — and both parties care more about appearing tough on crime than they do about truly reducing use of drugs.
"The Republican and Democratic parties will not honestly address the absolute insanity of our approach to preventing and fighting drug abuse and addiction," Anderson said in prepared text for a speech to the "Shadow Convention."
The shadow convention is a forum created by conservative commentator Arianna Huffington to address issues she and others felt the Democratic and Republican conventions are avoiding. Sessions are conducted near conventions of the major parties.
As part of the Tuesday theme that the war on drugs has failed, Anderson said it is "a war that was manufactured for political gain; a war that has backfired on the American people, viciously and relentlessly; a war that history will forever condemn as poorly conceived and pathetically, yet brutally executed."
Anderson called for less emphasis on tough prison sentences for even minor, non-violent drug offenses, and more focus on prevention programs proven to work.
"Drugs are more plentiful and less expensive, yet our nation's leaders have spent billons of taxpayer dollars on a strategy focused on the supply side rather than the demand side simply because Republicans and Democrats alike are terrified of appearing soft on crime," Anderson said.
"It is unfortunate they are not as terrified of appearing to be completely ineffective, wasteful and inhumane," he added.
He noted that the Clinton administration spent more on the war on drugs than it did on the Commerce, Interior and State departments combined — and prior Republican administrations spent even more.
He said the number of Americans in prison has increased tenfold since 1980, and the annual cost of jailing them is $9 billion. Meanwhile, he said drug use has increased, and drugs have become cheaper and easier to obtain according to studies.
"We must stop this insanity. We must stop this inhumanity," he said.
He called for elected officials to "evaluate the effectiveness of all government drug-related programs and strategies, and discontinue those that are shown to be ineffective" to concentrate efforts on those that work.
Anderson said that's what he tried when he pushed to cancel the popular DARE program in Salt Lake City schools. He said it is wiser to take money from it to establish after-school and summer youth programs to give youth alternatives to drugs.
"A huge part of substance abuse prevention relies on giving young people healthy, fun, interesting alternatives to destructive behavior. It is not enough to constantly tell our children what they cannot do," he said.
Anderson added, "Positive change lies in focusing on people, not on drugs — on the demand side, not the supply side."