MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Pro-Pot Student Group Wins 1A Fight With Meddling School Admins, State GOP

Court says Iowa State University discriminated against student marijuana-policy group based on "political pushback."

NORML ISU/FacebookNORML ISU/FacebookA win for free-speech and marijuana-decriminalization advocates from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. On Monday, a three-judge panel ruled in favor the student chapter of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) at Iowa State University (ISU), which had been banned from using ISU trademarks on much of its promotional material after drug prohibitionists in state politics complained.

ISU generally grants student groups the right to use ISU insignia, logos, and other trademarks (such as the words "ISU" and "Iowa State") on promotional materials, under certain broad conditions. Decisions are made by the school's Trademark Licensing Office. When NORML ISU first formed, in 2012, group members submitted a request for approval of a t-shirt saying "Freedom is NORML at ISU" with a small cannabis leaf above the slogan, and the Trademark Office initially approved it.

Soon thereafter, the Des Moines Register ran an article about marijuana legalization in which ISU student Josh Montgomery, then president of the school's NORML chapter, mentioned that ISU was supportive of his organization's efforts and had even approved the aforementioned t-shirt. On the day the Register article ran, the Iowa House Republicans Caucus sent a formal letter to ISU leadership asking whether they had actually approved the NORML t-shirt. By the end of the day, ISU President Steven Leath and his top staff were emailing one another to discuss whether the school could revoke approval of the NORML design.

The next day, a representative from the Iowa Governor's Office of Drug Control Policy personally contacted ISU administrators to voice concern with their t-shirt approval policies.

A few days after that, NORML ISU requested permission from the Trademark Office to use the same t-shirt design for another batch of shirts. This time, their request was placed on hold pending an upcoming ISU President's cabinet meeting. Thereafter, the ISU Trademark Office informed NORML students that it could not approve the use of any ISU trademarks in conjunction with any design featuring a cannabis leaf. It also said the group must clear all future designs with Student Affairs leadership before submitting them to the Trademark Office.

From there on out, "the Trademark Office rejected every NORML ISU design application that included the image of a cannabis leaf," explained the circuit court in its decision. "The Trademark Office also rejected designs that spelled out the NORML acronym but replaced 'Marijuana' with either 'M********" or "M[CENSORED].' The Trademark Office however approved several designs which did not use a cannabis leaf, but simply stated the group's name, and fully spelled out the NORML acronym."

In response, two members of the student group filed a lawsuit against their university, alleging violations of their First Amendment rights. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa initially ruled in favor of the students, prompting the university to appeal.

On Monday, the appeals court affirmed the district court's ruling, concluding that students' "attempts to obtain approval to use ISU's trademarks on NORML ISU's merchandise amounted to constitutionally protected speech." And state schools cannot discriminate against constitutionally protected speech on the basis of its viewpoint without proving that this restriction serves a compelling governmental interest and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest.

In this case, Iowa State's rejection of NORML ISU designs did discriminate based on viewpoint, the court found, and this discrimination was based on "political pushback." Therefore, "the district court did not err by concluding that [ISU] violated plaintiffs' First Amendment Rights because defendants engaged in viewpoint discrimination and did not argue that their administration of the trademark licensing program was narrowly tailored to satisfy a compelling governmental interest."

Photo Credit: NORML ISU/Facebook

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • WakaWaka||

    Thank God those planned riots against NORML have been diffused. Tolerance!

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Now if we can just get that pro-wine cooler Student Group to be allowed to organize on campus.

  • Acosmist||

    Title IX should handle that.

  • Lachowsky||

    If the school just didn't accept any public funding, they could have banned all the speech they wanted to. I wish more schools would think of this.

  • Acosmist||

    Pretty sure if you put it in those terms, they'd keep the Stafford loan gravy train going.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Sarc? I mean, it IS Iowa STATE.

  • Lachowsky||

    more snark than sarc, I wis publically funded universities would go the way of the dodo.

  • WakaWaka||

    While what constitutes as a 'victory' for 'free speech' is being set even lower, this happened.

    http://observer.com/2017/02/ac.....ee-speech/

  • John Titor||

    If I lived in Iowa I'd want to smoke a lot of pot too.

  • FreeRadical||

    Geez, shut the fuck up with your sneering dismissal of a place where people live. You took the time to make two posts looking down your nose at Iowans. What are you a progressive who lives in California?

    And yes, I'm from Iowa so I'm sensitive and butt hurt.

  • John Titor||

    I'm from northern Ontario. If you're not almost freezing to death and fighting off brain-parasite moose attacks on a regular basis you're an urban pussy. Get on my level.

  • FreeRadical||

    Yeah, people from Iowa like to talk about how cold it is there, but they got nothin on you.

  • John Titor||

    I mean, forgive me for my ignorance of Iowa history, but what exactly has the state produced in the long run? Corn, National Treasure Iowahawk, and...?

  • Homple||

  • John Titor||

    Well fine, I guess Iowans have invented the microchip and the Green Revolution.

    But what have they done for us lately?

  • Lachowsky||

    Absolutely fantastic quail and pheasant hunting, if you are into that sort of thing.

  • Rhywun||

    More corn.

  • Acosmist||

    It's not different at all, is it, Steve?

  • WakaWaka||

    At least a quarter of the food consumed in the world

  • kinnath||

    Maytag, Amana Radar Range, the radios that talked to Apollo on the moon, . . . . .

    Recently? High Fructose Corn Syrup I suppose.

  • FreeRadical||

    Pella Windows. John Deere. Rockwell Collins Avionics. Lot of hogs.

  • SomeGuy||

    does that really matter? They play a crucial role in supporting out parts of the country that specialize in more futurist stuff. Don't talk shit about support roles because if you don't have basic necessities you can;t do anything.

    this is not sarcasm....i am being serious. Every part of the economy plays a critical wrong in the whole picture....even hookers. We would be better off if people could pay for sex and smoke weed if they wanted to :/

  • The Late P Brooks||

    There's a drought. In fact, it'll probably never rain again

    The Oroville Dam is working as expected. Even so, the failure of peripheral dam structures—one or both of the spillways—could have disastrous consequences for the economy and environment. State and federal officials passed on the opportunity to take preventative action to upgrade these structures, improvements that would have cost tens to hundreds of millions of dollars. Now that both spillways have sustained damage, the improvements are instead damage control. The costs to communities are still being tolled.

    Upgrading the Oroville Dam spillways isn't a project that fits neatly into Trump's $1 trillion prescription for infrastructure spending. So far, Trump's plan largely means privatizing infrastructure development through the use of tax credits. Armoring the Oroville Dam's emergency spillway isn't the kind of investment likely to lure profit-minded private developers.

    "Maintenance? Fuck that. Somebody else's name is already on that dam."

    I wonder how the State of California will get the money; this might not be the best time to secede from the Union.

    And, as always, when in doubt, blame Trump.

  • IceTrey||

    Someone on tv said it will cost $200 million to repair.

  • SomeGuy||

    i love how the federal tax papers are going to get stuck with a state issue of incompetence.......

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The Iowa House Republicans Caucus is no doubt readying a formal letter to those so-called judges as we speak. DEFUND.

  • Ornithorhynchus||

    I still haven't learned how to post links correctly.

    sigh

    This would be the perfect time for a YouTube link to I Owe A Lot To Iowa Pot (either the original, or the Napoleon XIV version-- it doesn't matter which).

  • SomeGuy||

    tinyurl.com

  • FreeRadical||

    I went to Iowa State and smoked quite a bit of pot there, so there's that.

  • Jason Williams||

    Superb post. Thanks a lot for sharing iOS 11 features

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online