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Drug Free America Foundation founder Betty Sembler retires as chair

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Drug Free America Foundation, the nation’s leading drug prevention and policy organization, is under new leadership today as Betty Sembler passes the torch to attorney James W. Holton.

Sembler, wife of St. Petersburg developer Mel Sembler, served as DFAF founder and board chair for nearly 15 years. Holton is a real-estate lawyer based in Madeira Beach. He has served on the board for several years.

“I would like to thank Mrs. Betty Sembler for all that she does and all that she is,” said DFAF Executive Director Calvina Fay. “She is truly one of the most dedicated people I know, never wavering from her vision of a drug-free America.”

Fay praised Holton as a “great choice” for chair.

“He has many ties to the St. Petersburg community as a prominent businessman and has been appointed to the Board of Governors of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. by Governor Scott,” she added. “We are pleased that he will be leading the course of our organization moving forward.”

In accepting the new role, Holton quipped that he will “certainly have big shoes to fill,” noting that Betty Sembler spent more than three decades as a pioneer in national substance abuse policy and prevention.

“I look forward to leading this great team!” Holton said.

Even as the Drug Free America Foundation impacts lives around the globe, Sembler said that DFAF still has much work to do.

“Drug Free America Foundation continues to lead the charge, pushing back against dangerous drug policies and promoting public health and safety,” she said. “Jim understands the importance of our mission and will be a great leader.

“I am confident that Drug Free America Foundation is in very good hands.”

Sembler said she will continue to serve on the DFAF board.

The Drug Free America Foundation was instrumental in the opposition to Amendment 2, the 2014 proposal to legalize medical marijuana in the Florida Constitution. Amendment 2 failed to pass with 60 percent voter approval needed, receiving only 58 percent.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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