St. Petersburg’s Sembler family bankrolling opposition to Colorado’s Amendment 64 to legalize pot

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One of the most powerful drug warriors is Saint Petersburg’s Mel Sembler, a major Romney donor who has chaired the finance committee for the party and is now funding the opposition to Colorado’s Amendment 64 to legalize pot.

Save Our Society from Drugs, a Florida-based nonprofit founded by Mel and Betty Sembler, has given Smart Colorado contributions totaling $151,497 through September, according to a review of state campaign finance disclosures. That’s 95 percent of the money raised by the group so far.

Lee Fang explains why you should be concerned:

The Semblers have been waging a war on marijuana for decades. Before they led Save Our Society from Drugs, and its sister nonprofit, the Drug Free America Foundation, the Semblers were at the helm of STRAIGHT, Inc., which operated drug abuse treatment centers, mostly for teenagers, from 1976 through 1993. Former clients of the rehab center recount episodes of brutal beatings, rape and systematic psychological abuse. At one facility in Yorba Linda, California, state investigators found that STRAIGHT Inc. subjected children to “unusual punishment, infliction of pain, humiliation, intimidation, ridicule, coercion, threats, mental abuse…and interference with daily living functions such as eating, sleeping and toileting.” Samantha Monroe, who was placed into a STRAIGHT Inc clinic in Tampa at age 13, says she was locked in a room, and forced to wear a clothes stained with urine, feces and menstrual blood—a punishment her counselors called “humble pants.”

Maia Szalavitz examines other policies supported by Sembler’s Drug Free America Foundation:

DFAF fights not only against marijuana legalization and is in favor of a strong role for law enforcement and the drug war. It also opposes two of the most effective ways to save the lives of addicted people: needle exchange programs and methadone and buprenorphine maintenance. At several UN-related meetings, it has countered efforts to include these and other evidence-based “harm reduction” policies in the agency’s documents and strategies. Using propaganda based on junk science, the group exaggerates the negative aspects of drugs, such as their addictiveness and health risks, portraying the marijuana “menace” as if informed entirely by the 1950’s Reefer Madness — a cult classic for its over-the-top pot panic.

Material from The Daily Dish was used in this post.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.