- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Iowa State University violated the free speech of a student group that advocates for marijuana legalization by barring it from using the school’s logo, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed Monday.

The ISU chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, NORML, sued the college in 2014 after administrators refused to let the group print T-shirts depicting the university’s logo alongside a pot leaf. A District Court decided in the group’s favor last year, and a federal appeals panel voted 3-0 this week to uphold that ruling.

University administrators violated the student group’s First Amendment right to free speech by using the school’s trademark policy to prevent NORML ISU from printing the apparel, the appeals panel agreed.

NORML ISU is one of roughly 800 student groups officially recognized by campus administrators, and advocates locally for the legalization of marijuana, according to court documents. Upon being profiled on the cover of the Des Moines Register in late 2012, however, the group suddenly found itself facing scrutiny in the form of what two courts have since equated as unconstitutional discrimination.

The group’s former president, Josh Montgomery, told the Register in October 2012 that NORML ISU “has gotten nothing but support from the university,” according to the cover story.

“He even got approval from the licensing office to make a NORML T-shirt with the ISU logo; the red shirt features Cy the Cardinal on the front and a pot leaf on the back,” the article acknowledged.

The story quickly caused concern among campus officials, according to correspondence uncovered during litigation. Subsequent attempts to reorder the previously approved NORML ISU T-shirts were rejected by the university’s trademark office, and the school updated trademark policies in January 2013 to prohibit “designs that suggest promotion” of unlawful activity, including illegal drug use.

But “NORML ISU’s use of the cannabis leaf does not violate ISU’s trademark policies because the organization advocates for reform to marijuana laws, not the illegal use of marijuana,” the Eighth Circuit ruled Monday.

“The state engages in viewpoint discrimination when the rationale for its regulation of speech is ‘the specific motivating ideology or the opinion or perspective of the speaker,’” the appeals court wrote. “Defendants’ actions and statements show that the unique scrutiny they imposed on NORML ISU’s trademark applications was motivated by viewpoint discrimination.”

“I’m most excited about the ruling being unanimous,” former NORML ISU President Paul Gerlich told the Register following Monday’s ruling. “That shows how we were clearly in the right from the start.”

University officials acknowledged the ruling but were not certain if they’d appeal further, ISU spokesman John McCarroll told the newspaper.

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