Marijuana legalization would harm kids, says Smart Colorado, a group advertising stock images of children along with messages asking for voters to reject Amendment 64, a ballot initiative this year to legalize and tax pot.
Smart Colorado, led former Republican senate candidate Ken Buck and a team of Republican lobbyists and campaign operatives, hopes to drive down the popularity of Amendment 64 before Election Day. The supposedly family-friendly group, however, relies heavily on funds from a pair of controversial Republican fundraisers who once led a drug rehab center shut down over wide-ranging child abuse scandals.
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 The Nation’s review of state finance disclosures. That’s 95 percent of the money raised by the group so far.
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.
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.”
Richard Bradbury, a former STRAIGHT patient and counselor-turned-whistleblower, told the St. Petersburg Times that Monroe’s experiences weren’t unique. “It was pure child abuse,” Bradbury told reporters. “Torture.”
In 1988, Fred Collins, an 18-year-old college student, paid a visit to his brother, who was in treatment for drug abuse, at an Orlando STRAIGHT Inc. clinic. Counselors accused Collins of being high on marijuana because his eyes were red, and held him against his will for months. The abduction, strip-searches and other abuses ended when Collins managed to escape. He was one of many to win judgments against the chain of drug rehab clinics before it was forced to close after investigations and lawsuits began to mount in several states.