Hillsboro City Council this week approved an ordinance that allows city residents to sue drug dealers if they experience monetary loss or injury due to illicit drug activity, and allows those who have been addicted to drugs to sue those who sold them drugs for the cost of treatment.
As previously reported, the legislation is designed to “shift the cost of the damage caused by the marketing of illegal drugs to those who illegally profit from that market,” according to a copy of the ordinance.
The ordinance, which had its third and final reading and was adopted at Monday night’s council meeting, allows residents to recover between 25 and 100 percent of damages depending on the amount of drugs the dealer possessed or distributed at the time of the incident.
It also allows drug users to sue drug dealers for the cost of drug treatment, but only if they report dealers to authorities six months before filing the action, and are clean for 3o days before the suit.
Councilwoman Wendy Culbreath, who first had the idea for the ordinance, said the ordinance was drafted in response to rampant drug abuse here and the possibility of Hillsboro getting a medical marijuana dispensary — although she said the ordinance can’t keep a dispensary from opening here.
“We have a big drug problem in this country today,” Culbreath said, “and we have a huge drug problem here in Highland County… this was an attempt to try and make the drug dealers of illegal drugs responsible for their products.”
Culbreath said those who have been harmed by legitimate medications can sue drug manufacturers, but those addicted to illicit drugs don’t have a way to do the same, no matter how much harm is caused.
“Why wouldn’t we try and put a little pressure on people who are selling drugs by letting them know, ‘If you’re going to sell drugs, you can get sued for it’?”
Culbreath said people who are addicted to illicit drugs are often not bad people.
“They’re just hooked,” she said. “A lot of times they’re sick individuals… We want to go after the suppliers… This may or may not be the answer, but we’re trying to do something.”
Councilwoman Claudia Klein, who co-sponsored the legislation with Culbreath, Brandon Leeth and Ann Morris, said at a previous council meeting that she wanted the ordinance approved before medical marijuana was made legal in Ohio, which took effect Sept. 8.
In June, a company by the name of Debbie’s Dispensary Ohio 4, LLC, with an address listed at 1088 N. High St., Hillsboro, won a provisional dispensary license, but no opening date has been announced.
On Wednesday, Klein said the ordinance “doesn’t have much to do with medical marijuana because that obviously isn’t a street drug and can’t be used as one… We are just looking for any way that we can fight this drug problem.”
Culbreath said while the ordinance was written as somewhat of a response to the legalization of medical marijuana in Ohio, it doesn’t act as a deterrent to a dispensary opening here.
“Apparently, we can’t ban it because the state came out and named Hillsboro as a place to have one,” she said. “The thing we can do about it is go after illegal drug dealers.”
Culbreath said she is opposed to a dispensary opening here.
“I would hope that they would not come, period,” she said. “It brings crime, it brings people from all over the place to get their prescriptions — they’re not prescriptions, they’re just a note saying ‘I think you should use medical marijuana.’”
On Monday, Klein, Stanforth, Leeth and Morris voted in favor of approving the ordinance, and councilmen Justin Harsha and Adam Wilkin voted no.
Harsha and Wilkin both told The Times-Gazette that they’re concerned the ordinance will drain police resources in Hillsboro, and questioned its effectiveness.
“I think it’s legislation that’s unnecessary,” Wilkin said. “The steps you would have to go through, it just seems our police have enough work and to spread them even thinner like this may be an issue.”
Harsha said he has spoken with members of the law enforcement community here, and “they felt the same way.” He said while there is “no question that I’m concerned about the drugs in the area,” he believes the ordinance is built on a false assumption of the way the drug trade works here.
“I don’t really think there’s a lot of drug dealers with a whole lot of money around here,” he said. “If it works and does what they say, then it tickles me to death. I just really questioned it.”
Wilkin said the ordinance’s possible connections to medical marijuana gave him pause.
“I’m not sure if the legislation is about all the drug users or if it was just passed to stop the dispensary somehow,” he said.
Either way, Wilkin said, “I just don’t believe in stacking the books with laws that we can’t enforce or that would be so difficult to enforce. In America, you can sue anybody for anything anyway.”
Wilkin said he still respects other council members’ thoughts on the ordinance.
“I always have and always will,” he said. “I just didn’t feel good about it.”
Also Monday, council took the following action:
• Suspended the three-reading rule and voted unanimously to approve and adopt an ordinance vacating an alley.
• Approved a resolution accepting the amounts and rates as determined by the budget commission and authorizing the necessary tax levies and certifying them to the county auditor.
• Suspended the three-reading rule and unanimously approved a final resolution outlining an agreement between the City of Hillsboro and the Ohio Department of Transportation for a resurfacing project on U.S. Route 50; a resolution authorizing the city to apply for state capital improvement and/or local transportation improvement programs for trunk line improvements from Speigle Street to Northview Drive; and a resolution authorizing the city to apply for state capital improvement and/or local transportation improvement programs for the third phase of a reconstruction project on North East Street.
Council was slated to enter executive session Monday evening, but did not do so due to the absence of Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings and Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570.