NORML ISU wins lawsuit after four-year battle

NORML ISU wins lawsuit after four-year battle

By Alex Connor, February 4, 2016

Marijuana and Cy can go hand-in-hand, at least on a T-shirt.

A four-year battle between the student group, NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and administration came to a head Jan. 22, in favor of the student organization.

In a 45-page ruling released by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, FIRE, the U.S District Court for the Southern District of Iowa fell in favor of plaintiffs Paul Gerlich and Erin Furleigh, in which the university is now permanently restricted from enforcing the trademark policies against NORML in a discriminatory manner.

“Defendants are hereby permanently enjoined from enforcing trademark licensing policies against Plaintiffs in a viewpoint discriminatory manner and from further prohibiting Plaintiffs from producing licensed apparel on the basis that their designs included the image of a similar cannabis leaf,” the court documents stated.

Gerlich and Furleigh, who both served as president and vice president of the chapter and are current ISU students, filed the suit in July 2014, on the basis that Iowa State infringed on their First and 14th Amendment rights.

The grievances, which began Nov. 19, 2012, after a front-page article by the Des Moines Register, which focused on marijuana’s recent political activities, was published with a quote by then-president and founder Josh Montgomery.

Montgomery, expressing that he felt the university was supportive of NORML ISU, was also featured in a picture of him wearing and holding their chapter T-shirt, which read, “Freedom is NORML at ISU” with a cannabis leaf on the back. The T-shirt design had been previously approved for production and sale by the trademarking office in October.

It was then when the defendants, President Steven Leath, Senior Vice President for Business and Finance Warren Madden, Director of Trademark Licensing Leesha Zimmerman and then-Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Tom Hill, would receive backlash from public and political groups about the shirt and Iowa State’s involvement.

All of the defendants declined to comment on the recent court order, said John McCarroll, executive director of university relations.

A President’s cabinet meeting took place Nov. 26, 2012, to discuss the T-shirt design and the possibility of revising a few of the trademark policies.

The discussion only lasted 10 to 15 minutes, and Leath remembers no actual deliberation on the topic, according to the court documents.

“If there was a discussion it was extremely brief,” Leath said. “It was more like, ‘Yeah, everybody gets it. Go fix it.’”

“The meeting came to the conclusion that the students need to come up with new designs. The T-shirt they have now has been declared as unfit, and seen as Iowa State endorsing something [it is] not. The shirts are no longer in production,” according to an article published by the Daily on Nov. 28, 2012.

“We have a university concern with the potential of producing more shirts with the mark on it, as is,” Madden was quoted saying at the meeting. “You have to put these in context: there is no question you got approval to do this, and now we are getting feedback and reviewing the T-shirt.”

Madden then instructed Zimmerman to consult him before approving any reorders that NORML ISU might attempt.

Madden began investigating whether NORML ISU met the qualifications for recognition as a student organization 10 days after The Des Moines Register published its article. It was discovered that the group’s adviser, an ISU custodian, violated the recognition standards.

The administration then told NORML at its next meeting that the group would have to replace its adviser or it would lose its status as a recognized group, according to the court documents. And that because the T-shirt caused confusion about whether Iowa State supported the legalization of marijuana, it did not conform to university policies and needed to be changed.

Hill said he would be willing to step in as interim faculty adviser so the chapter could remain a student organization, but the group found Eric Cooper, associate professor of psychology, instead.

“It kind of looked like Cy was endorsing our cause, and that’s where it kind of all started,” Gerlich said in an interview with the Daily in 2014. “From there, we were told that we could no longer produce the T-shirts.”

“They can do and say whatever they want to do and say,” Hill said in an interview with the Daily in 2014. “But they don’t have the right to use the university logo or the university name to support their position.”

The ISU Trademark Guidelines were revised the year after the initial reaction to the shirt to include a new section, one that clarified that ISU marks could not be used to suggest promotion of certain items, including illegal drugs, and that Iowa State’s name and marks could not be used to imply support or endorsement in matters of public concern, according to the court documents.

A tier group was also created with the revisions, which restricted the use of ISU trademarks for certain classes of ISU groups. The tiering system divided student groups into either “sponsored,” “recognized” or “registered” organizations.

Sponsored organizations received full permission to use ISU logos, including Cy the Cardinal. Recognized groups such as NORML ISU received limited use. Groups in the registered tier would not be permitted the use of ISU logos at all.

To then test what the group could do, NORML ISU submitted two t-shirt designs that read “NORML ISU” across the front and “We are NORML” across the back, and another shirt saying “NORML ISU Student Chapter.” The t-shirts went on to be approved by the trademark office.

Three different T-shirt designs were then submitted that included cannabis leaf graphics and political slogans. Hill, who was then the interim adviser, informed Montgomery that the three designs were not acceptable. The group’s Facebook page would also need some changes, which included the removal of a graphic with a cannabis leaf.

More T-shirt designs would then be submitted, which included an image of a tetrahydrocannabinol molecule, all the way to a slogan reading “It’s not for everyone but it’s not a crime.”

Those, among others, were all rejected, grossly on the basis that “the depiction of the cannabis leaf violated the trademark guideline prohibiting licenses for designs that “suggest promotion” of “dangerous, illegal or unhealthy products, actions or behaviors; drugs and drug paraphernalia that are illegal or unhealthful.”

Then, a year and half following initial complaints against NORML ISU, Gerlich and Furleigh filed suit, claiming that the new guidelines were “overly broad and vague” and the the vague wording of the policy allows for administrators to make judgements based on “arbitrary application” or on the basis of “the viewpoint to be expressed,” according to a July 2014 Daily article.

Will Creeley, who works for FIRE, said in an interview with the Daily in 2014, “ISU cannot censor certain viewpoints simply because they are controversial, dissent from the current order or express ideas that ISU administrators would rather not hear.

On Sept. 9, 2014, the university pushed a 13-page motion to dismiss the four administrators and that the suit should be dropped for a number of reasons, one being that “both Furleigh and Gerlich failed to provide facts that showed their First Amendment right to speech was violated.”

Four months later, a federal judge denied Iowa State’s request to dismiss the freedom of speech case. Iowa State had tried arguing that the case is more about trademark issues than what was at hand.

A jury trial was then scheduled for Dec. 14, 2015. However, in October the judge canceled the trial date and both parties moved to file motions for pre-judgements, meaning the courts should rule without a trial.

NORML ISU would go on to win their case on Friday, Jan. 22.

Gerlich and Montgomery, while happy, however, are not completely satisfied with the win.

“So, essentially, we won and we lost,” Gerlich said. “We didn’t win as much as I believe we should have, but we did win.”

“How we didn’t win was that we basically tried to say that their policy was too broad,” Gerlich continued. Gerlich said that the university attempted to clump them with supporting marijuana instead of just marijuana reform laws.

“We said that their rules are too general and they were subjectively and arbitrarily enforced, which was not agreed upon by the judge. So they get to keep the rules, but they’re not applied to us in that specific instance.”

Montgomery additionally said, “It’s a victory for free speech, whether or not you believe marijuana should be criminalized or not.”

“It’s not over yet, because the university may appeal and they’ll lose again.”

In an e-mail to the Daily on Jan. 22, McCarroll wrote, “Today’s U.S. District Court opinion in the NORML case is disappointing. Iowa State will consult with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office to determine if the order will be appealed.”

Win or lose, Montgomery still felt their group was personally targeted by the administrators due to outside entities.

Montgomery, in his interview with the Daily, discussed his reactions to how the administration dealt with the t-shirts and realized that the issue was much bigger than himself and their organization.

“When the university handed down the original decision to revoke our right to create design… we were taken aback. It became real to us that we were smaller than the institution, that students didn’t play as much of a role in the university,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery even claimed that, “Instead of standing up for what students believed in, they [administration] heeded the political pressure they received from Steve Lukan,” who is the director of the governor’s office for drug control policy.

In the FIRE report, it was stated that two days after the Des Moines Register article came out, that Lukan called Leath’s office asking how they would respond and change the trademark approval policies.

Brad Trow, Iowa House Republican caucus staff, also called Leath’s office asking about the approval of the NORML ISU t-shirt design.

Montgomery’s claims were confirmed when according to the report, Madden acknowledged that the January 16, 2013, revisions to the ISU Trademark Guidelines were made as a result of external criticism, including observers’ perceptions that ISU supported NORML ISU’s advocacy for marijuana law reform.

Leath was also quoted at the time, “my experience would say in a state as conservative as Iowa on many issues, that it was going to be a problem,” and, “it would be unwise, it would just be foolish not to have a close working relationship with the top government official when you’re a government entity.”

“If there is a villain in this situation, it’s whoever put the pressure on administrators to stifle the students,” Montgomery said.

As for now, Montgomery had a few words on the future of the case and of NORML ISU’s t-shirts.

“It doesn’t just mean NORML can put a cannabis leaf on the shirts—and boy, are we going to put lots of leaves on our shirts.”

NORML ISU’s lawsuit continues to be delayed

NORML ISU’s lawsuit continues to be delayed

By Sarah Muller,

December 11, 2015

Court dates are pushed back for the lawsuit between ISU student organization NORML ISU, a marijuana legalization advocacy club, and Iowa State University.

In July 2014, Paul Gerlich, NORML ISU’s president, and Erin Furleigh, member of NORML ISU, filed a lawsuit against Iowa State University. Gerlich and Furleigh’s reasoning was that members of administration had infringed NORML ISU’s First Amendment rights. The administration had stopped the club from using Cy, the Cylcone mascot, on a club T-shirt.

Defendants in the suit include President Steven Leath, Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Tom Hill, Senior Vice President for Business and Finance Warren Madden and Director of Trademark Licensing Leesha Zimmerman.

In October, the judge canceled the trial date that had been set. On Nov. 18, both parties filed motions for prejudgement, meaning the parties believe that they courts should rule without a trial.

John McCarroll, director of University Relations, said they are expecting a pretrial conference and rulings on Jan. 29 at 10:30 a.m. There, both parties will then find out if their outstanding motions have been granted and set up further court dates.

“Everybody is waiting for the judges decision,” said Keith Bystrom, associate counsel with University Counsel. “Both parties think they should win.”

Iowa NORML holds Iowa City’s first outreach meeting

Iowa NORML holds Iowa City’s first outreach meeting

Andy Davis, 9:11 p.m. CST January 25, 2015

On Sunday the Iowa chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, met with about 25 Iowa City community members for its first community and membership meeting in the area at the Iowa City Public Library.

Crystal Brunt, director of communication for Iowa NORML, said the meeting was intended as a way for the organization and its members to introduce themselves to the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids communities and to see if there is an interest in creating satellite chapters in those areas.

“We’re moving on forming a hemp bill, and we’re trying for full-out legalization,” Brunt said. “What we’re trying to do here today is to reach out to people, inform them and spur activity.”

Members of the Des Moines-based Iowa NORML spoke to the community during the meeting about the bill that was signed into law last year by Gov. Terry Branstad that legalized the possession and use of marijuana oil, or cannabidiol, for patients with intractable epilepsy. The families who lobbied for that law, however, have said the law is basically useless because it provides no legal means to obtain the marijuana extract.

“The war on drugs has been an abysmal failure. It rips apart families and destroys young peoples’ lives over a matter of personal choice,” Brunt said. “We’re pushing for more sensible policy that would treat possession and use as a heath issue, not a criminal issue.”

Carl Olsen, an advocate for marijuana legalization, spoke Sunday about Senate Study Bill 1005, a bill intended to classify marijuana as a Schedule II drug like morphine and cocaine, which have some medical value. Olsen said during his presentation Sunday that the bill also aims to legalize small amounts of cannabis, but that the focus of this proposed bill should be only the reclassification of marijuana.

“That bill was scheduled for a hearing Tuesday afternoon, but the hearing was canceled, so there is no future date set for that hearing,” Olsen said. “I don’t know how decriminalization got into that bill, I think they should have been filed separately.”

Olsen said another bill, HF 60, was also filed and calls only for the decriminalization of possession of 42.5 grams of marijuana and reduction of the first punishment to a $500 fine.

State Sens. Bob Dvorsky and Kevin Kinney attended the meeting.

“My political advice would be all your emphasis should be on (Senate Study Bill 1005) to get that changed to try and move forward with what we actually got passed last time,” Dvorsky said. “I’m not sure why decriminalization is in there either. I think you need a clean bill that just moves it from Schedule I to Schedule II, and that’s part of the holdup, I think, in trying to get something done.”

Visitors to the meeting Sunday were given informational handouts including a list of members of the Iowa House of Representatives and State Senate and their email addresses and were encouraged to voice their support. Visitors were also given the opportunity to become members of Iowa NORML.

Reach Andy Davis at 319-887-5404 or at, and follow him on Twitter at @BylineAndyDavis.

Mainstreaming Marijuana: Legislators at NORML forum

Mainstreaming Marijuana: Legislators at NORML forum

Monday, January 26, 2015

It’s funny how issues get mainstreamed, and how fast some issues move.

Just a few years ago, I was considered a crazy radical for supporting marijuana legalization.

Then in the last two years, through the justice center campaigns (but not the November 2014 courthouse campaign, because there WAS no campaign) and the 2014 county attorney primary, I was a hopeless reactionary, a “tool” of the “Democrat machine.” My position hadn’t changed a bit; I still supported legalization, I just didn’t believe a county attorney could do so unilaterally.

In any case, things have evolved so fast that the legalization movement hardly needs me anymore.

On Sunday the Iowa chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, met with about 25 Iowa City community members for its first community and membership meeting in the area at the Iowa City Public Library.

I didn’t hear about this ahead of time. I might have gone to show support. I might have stayed away, to avoid people whom I agree with on the issue but disagree with on tactics, or on some other things, or who I just personally dislike.

But it turns out that some of those in attendance matter far more than me. The most important part of the article is buried low:

“State Sens. Bob Dvorsky and Kevin Kinney attended the meeting.”

That’s two legislators. Two members of “the Democrat machine” which sometimes gets called “the Dvorsky Machine.” That’s Bob Dyorsky, a retired corrections official, and Kevin Kinney, a just-retired deputy sheriff. And Johnson County’s third Democratic Senator, Joe Bolkcom, is the lead sponsor of medical marijuana issues in the legislature.

With those guys there, you hardly need me, do you?

“My political advice would be all your emphasis should be on (Senate Study Bill 1005) to get that changed to try and move forward with what we actually got passed last time,” Dvorsky said. “I’m not sure why decriminalization is in there either. I think you need a clean bill that just moves it from Schedule I to Schedule II, and that’s part of the holdup, I think, in trying to get something done.”

Pragmatic advice from a key legislator. Popular opinion is moving faster than I’ve ever seen it move on any issue except marriage equality. (Pleeeease let Alabama’s first gay marriage be interracial too. I want to be SURE heads explode.) And Kevin and Bob see that.

Here’s hoping that the nullifiers who opposed the justice center and Janet Lyness give credit where it is due, and praise Kinney, Dvorsky and Bolkcom as loudly as they attacked Lyness and justice center supporters.

Editorial: A chance for reform in marijuana laws

Editorial: A chance for reform in marijuana laws


A new legislative year brings with it a chance to rethink controversial issues from the past. This sentiment resonated on Sunday when the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws met for the first time in Iowa City in the Iowa City Public Library. NORML describes its mission “is to move public opinion sufficiently to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults and to serve as an advocate for consumers to ensure they have access to high-quality marijuana that is safe, convenient, and affordable.”

NORML has two main goals this year; make sure that passage is cleared in the Iowa Legislature for two bills.

One of the bills that NORML pushes for would reclassify cannabis as a Schedule 2 drug instead of a Schedule 1. Being classified as a Schedule 1 means that the drug “has high potential for abuse” and “has no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or lacks accepted safety for use in treatment under medical supervision.” It is important to note that morphine and cocaine are Schedule 2 drugs because they are considered to have some medical value.

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics has acknowledged that cannabis may be a treatment option for some children. Considering that many experts now agree that marijuana does have medicinal benefits, the current classification of cannabis is clearly outdated. In fact, 23 states have approved marijuana for medicinal use.

The other bill on NORML’s agenda is one that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. The vision is for a more productive allocation of law-enforcement resources.

The current law states that a first marijuana-possession offense is punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of $1,000, or both. It’s considered a serious misdemeanor. The new bill would lower the punitive punishments. If people possess five or fewer grams, they would only be liable for 30 days in jail, a fine from $65 to $625, or both. It would also be classified as a simple misdemeanor. Instead of arresting and handling people with small amounts of marijuana, law enforcement would be able to focus on more serious offenses.

Polling shows that Iowans agree with NORML’s mission regarding medical marijuana. A Quinnipiac University survey in March 2014 showed that 81 percent of registered Iowa voters support legalizing medical marijuana, which would be prescribed by a doctor.

It’s important to note that Iowa has slowly made some progress on this issue. Gov. Terry Branstad signed a law in May 2014 that decriminalizes possession of a certain extract of marijuana for people with severe epilepsy. The extract is called cannabis oil and is made in a way that makes it very difficult to experience any “high.” However, the program simply decriminalizes the action and doesn’t provide any legal ways to obtain the extract. In essence, the program is largely unfinished and represents a baby step in the right direction.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board applauds NORML for meeting in Iowa City and hopes more groups such as this can continue to influence Iowa to get these bills passed. When nearly half the states have agreed to regulate medical marijuana, Iowa’s hesitance to move forward means it risks being left behind. Iowa must change course on this issue; the current laws are outdated, and the people support a change.

A call for public action, Cedar Falls

A call for public action, Cedar Falls

On January 22, 2015

On the Monday of finals week last semester, history was nearly made by the Cedar Falls City Council. By a single vote, 4-3, the City Council voted not to decriminalize marijuana possession in Cedar Falls, a measure that would have been the first of it’s kind in Iowa. This idea was originally brought before the council by Councilman Nick Taiber, a rare example of a public servant with a sharp mind and a spine to match. Taiber, among others, is concerned by the racial disparity of marijuana related arrests, as well as the repercussions of those arrests. Taiber’s proposal takes advantage of the City’s ability to direct the enforcement of laws in specific areas. In the past, this might have meant focusing on property crimes or enforcing rental property law more strictly, but Taiber’s proposal would direct the Cedar Falls police to refrain from making marijuana related arrests and focus instead on crime that actually hurts the community.

Taiber was joined by retired UNI political science professor Allen Hays, who addressed the City Council on Dec. 15. Hays repeated what many in Iowa and around the country have been saying for years: the prohibition of marijuana is based on ignorance, unsound misconceptions and a denial of medical evidence. Hays, a member of the community group Cedar Valley Citizens for Undoing Racism, also pointed out that the ACLU ranked Iowa worst in the country in terms of racial disparity of arrests. It’s no question that elements of the marijuana prohibition in fact target racial minorities, evidenced by a disparity in conviction rates. Hays was quoted in the Courier, “It’s hard for some of us in the majority to admit this, but drug enforcement grossly disproportionately targets African-Americans and other people of color. It has a devastating impact on their communities.”

Had the City Council voted for this resolution, it would have been a signal to the community and to the state of Iowa that Cedar Falls is a progressive community more focused on improving the lives of its citizens.

While Blackhawk county authorities would not be subject to the resolution and would still make arrests, the main change in Cedar Falls would be that less lives would be destroyed in our senseless “War on Drugs.” Rather than using fear and intimidation to enforce order, this ordinance would recognize that we reduce violent crime and hard drug abuse not through incarceration, but through community building and education.

While naysayers would say that Cedar Falls would be endorsing drug abuse, in fact the proposal the City voted on would simply turn a marijuana-related violation from a serious misdemeanor to a small infraction on the order of a parking ticket. Sadly, Cedar Falls would not turn into some kind of drug-mecca overnight. It would still be in the power of the UNI to prohibit marijuana on campus, and it wouldn’t legalize the sale of marijuana itself. Rather, Cedar Falls would simply have less people needlessly thrown in jail than we did last year. Lives and families destroyed by marijuana convictions would instead go on living their lives to their full potential.

The attitude of the Council members who voted against the resolution show the success of the War on Drug’s campaign to spread ignorance and fear. Councilman Joan Runchey, up for reelection in the fall, said that “I think this is the stupidest thing we have spent time on in a long time.” Considering the recent city council debates on roundabouts, the needless destruction of the lives of many young, mostly minority people demands attention and serious discussion. I applaud public servants like Councilman Taiber for having the guts to speak up about a controversial issue and advocate for sensible governance. It takes guts to advocate for real change, and Taiber deserves our help and support.

The four members who voted against the resolution, Runchey, Susan deBuhr, James Stichter and David Weiland are up for reelection in the next city election cycle this fall. UNI students and community members: hold them accountable! With the measure failing only 4-3, the historically low-drama city elections could be a referendum on the City’s inaction on this very issue.

If this is an issue you care about, real change at our local level is possible. Very rarely do the gears of democracy work so neatly on the local level, and I strongly urge the Cedar Falls community to think hard about what issues they think are important to the city in the next election.

Cedar Falls won’t decriminalize marijuana

Cedar Falls won’t decriminalize marijuana

January 6, 2015 • By Mike Anderson

CEDAR FALLS | The case to deprioritize marijuana arrests in Cedar Falls started its climb through the clockwork of city government Monday evening only to be struck down by a majority of the City Council before it could get a toehold.

“I think this is the stupidest thing we have spent time on in a long time,” said Councilman John Runchey.

Runchey is one of four council members who voted against Councilman Nick Taiber’s motion to direct the police department to deprioritize arresting persons in possession of one gram or less of marijuana.

The other council members to vote against the proposed resolution were Susan deBuhr, James Stichter and David Weiland. Councilmen Frank Darrah and Mark Miller joined Taiber in support of softening the city’s stance on marijuana possession.

The case for that idea was presented to the council by Allen Hays, a retired University of Northern Iowa political science professor and former director of the school’s graduate program in public policy. Hays was there during the City Council’s committee-of-the-whole meeting Monday evening to represent the War On Drugs Task Force, a branch of the Cedar Valley Citizens for Undoing Racism.

“As we’ve gotten more into the issue,” Hays said, “we’ve come to raise a lot of questions about the overall wisdom and efficacy of the war on drugs, especially marijuana.”

Hays attempted to clear up some misconceptions about marijuana, namely that it is more dangerous than alcohol: it’s not, a fact borne out by several studies, including one released in 2010 by Lancet, a medical journal based in the United Kingdom.

Another idea Hays and his committee sought to dispel is marijuana is a “gateway” drug that leads to more serious drug usage.

“Yes, many hard drug users have used marijuana in the past, but that does not prove causation,” Hays said. “They’ve probably drank milk at some point in their lives, too, but that doesn’t show that milk got them hooked on heroin. There’s no causation there.”

Hays argued while marijuana is not addictive, it is habit forming, and like any drug including alcohol potentially dangerous to the user.

“We are taking young people who maybe made a foolish decision and we are harming them throughout the rest of their lives by making this an aggravated misdemeanor or a felony,” Hays said. “Admittedly, the drugs can harm them. I’m not saying they don’t. But we’re adding to the harm.”

At least a serious misdemeanor and at most a felony, in Iowa, possession of even half an ounce of a marijuana can lead to six months imprisonment or a $1,000 fine. Getting caught a second time with a small quantity marijuana could lead to a year in prison, two years for a third conviction.

Hays repeated his group’s argument that an extreme racial disparity exists when it comes to marijuana arrests. According to a 2013 American Civil Liberties Union study on the subject, African-Americans in Iowa are eight times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though they use it at the same rate.

“It’s hard for some of us in the majority to admit this, but drug enforcement grossly disproportionately targets African-Americans and other people of color,” Hays said. “It has a devastating impact on their communities.”

Though Iowa is actually the worst in the U.S. on this metric, according to the ACLU, a similar trend plays out nationally.

The original idea proposed by Hays and his supporters was to reduce the seriousness of a marijuana arrest to a municipal infraction, like a parking or speeding ticket.

But the Iowa Code prohibits such a change.

But the city can direct police officers to use their discretion and simply look the other way in limited cases where a person only is in possession of an ounce or less of the drug.

This idea did not sit well with most council members.

“I think if this is something you feel strongly about, you need to take it to the state level,” said Councilwoman Susan deBuhr. “We are a governing body tasked with making laws, not ignoring laws.”

Taiber stepped in, saying he does not advocate for ignoring the law entirely, but rather for looking at different ways to enforce it.

He noted the council recently directed police to step up enforcement of property and maintenance code violations.

“We already do this today,” Taiber said. “We use discretion every time we don’t pull someone over for speeding or jaywalking.”

The decriminalization of marijuana, he said, is no different.

“I think this absolutely is a prioritization effort for our council,” Taiber said. “And when we start to analyze the effects and how it actually destroys lives and puts people in prison, I feel compelled to act.”

Marijuana laws changing, causing confusion

Marijuana laws changing, causing confusion

Monday, January 5, 2015
By Austin Harrington

PLYMOUTH CO. — With recent changes in marijuana laws, people in several states are voicing confusion over enforcement if they cross state lines with any form of the plant.

States like Colorado have garnered national media attention for legalizing the recreational usage of marijuana.

Le Mars Chief of Police Stu Dekkenga said he has not seen an increase of marijuana traffic through the city since Colorado legalized marijuana.

However, Dekkenga said he has dealt with at least one person from Colorado who questioned the harshness of criminal penalties associated with possession of marijuana in Iowa.

These types of questions may be caused by states, including Iowa, making more subtle changes to marijuana laws, compared to the changes made in states like Colorado.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad signed the medical cannabidiol act into law on May 30 of last year.

The law is meant to give patients suffering from extreme forms of epilepsy a way to treat their condition by using a chemical called cannabidiol, or CBD.

CBD is a non-psychoactive chemical found in marijuana.

Iowa law allows each patient to possess up to 32 ounces, or an estimated six-month supply, of CBD oil.

What the law does not allow, is to purchase CBD oil within state borders.

The closest place a Plymouth County patient could purchase CBD oil is Colorado.

That means the patient would have to drive the oil back through a state where the medicine may not be legal.

These less publicized changes to legislation have many people confused about what is legal to have while crossing into another state.

Currently, 23 states and the District of Columbia have laws legalizing marijuana in some form.

States such as Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon have all legalized marijuana for recreational use.

While other states have only legalized it for medicinal purposes.

Another 14 states have simply decriminalized possession of marijuana.

This typically means a person found with marijuana will be ticketed for the offense but will not receive prison time or a criminal record.

Although Nebraska is among the states to have decriminalized marijuana possession, the state still accounts for a large amount of possession arrests, according to a study done by the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU.

The ACLU examined marijuana possession arrest rates for all 50 states.

According to the study, Nebraska ranks third for the most marijuana possession arrests, per 100,000 residents, in the nation, despite decriminalizing possession in the 1970s.

It is this type of inconsistency that leads to confusion, according to Aaron Schoeneman, executive director of The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Iowa.

Schoeneman said he is happy with the legislation Iowa passed for CBD oil, but is frustrated with the way the state, and other states, have enacted laws.

“It (the CBD act) sends parents over state lines and that’s illegal. Even though marijuana is technically decriminalized in Nebraska they enforce the federal law and ignore their own state law,” Schoeneman said.

The difference between federal laws and state laws, as they pertain to marijuana possession, has been another source of confusion, according to Schoeneman.

Even if a state legalizes marijuana usage, in any form, federal laws still lists marijuana as a controlled substance.

This means a person can be prosecuted under federal law, even in a state that has legalized the plant’s usage.

By prosecuting an Iowan who has gone to Colorado to purchase CBD oil under federal law, instead of Nebraska state law, the state is able to charge that person with a felony.

If convicted, that person could face up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

This makes it impossible for patients or parents of patients that require CBD oil to obtain it safely, according to Schoeneman.

With several states adjusting their marijuana laws during each election cycle, confusion over implementation and overall changes is to be expected.

To avoid harsh penalties and criminal prosecution people can find a breakdown of individual state laws at

City Council to hear case for marijuana decriminalization

City Council to hear case for marijuana decriminalization

January 4, 2015 • By Mike Anderson

CEDAR FALLS | The City Council will hear a presentation from local advocates in support of decriminalizing the possession of certain amounts of marijuana within the city limits.

Councilman Nick Taiber first raised the idea of decriminalizing the drug in November, prompting action from Allen Hays, a retired University of Northern Iowa political science professor and former director of the school’s graduate program in public policy.

Hays is the chairman of the War on Drugs task force, a branch of the Cedar Valley Citizens for Undoing Racism, the advocacy group that is expected to present its case to the council during the committee-of-the-whole meeting on Monday evening.

Hays and his fellow advocates agree with Taiber’s argument that the state and national racial disparities n marijuana related arrests are unacceptable, and local decriminalization of the drug is one way to lessen the problem.

The council will also receive an update of a zoning ordinance amendment that will clarify off street parking regulations, delineate the allowable types of driveways within the city, and impose stricter requirements for open space on properties within the city.

The zoning amendment sprang out of discussions held by the rental housing task force. It is the first of several other amendments that city staff are expected to generate for approval by the council within the coming months.

The committee-of-the-whole meeting will begin at 5 p.m. on Monday in council chambers at city hall, 220 Clay St. The meetings are televised and open to attendance by the public.

Retired UNI prof pushing relaxed pot policing in Cedar Falls

Retired UNI prof pushing relaxed pot policing in Cedar Falls

November 24, 2014 • By Mike Anderson

CEDAR FALLS | An ordinance to decriminalize possession of marijuana could be on the table for discussion by the City Council as early as Dec.11.

That’s the hope of R. Allen Hays, a retired University of Northern Iowa political science professor and former director of the school’s graduate program in public policy. Hays is the chairman of the War on Drugs task force, a branch of the Cedar Valley Citizens for Undoing Racism.

“For a long time I have thought that marijuana prohibition is not good public policy,” Hays said. “It’s just inconsistent. We have many more dangerous drugs that are legal like alcohol and cigarettes, but we’re putting people in jail for pot. The inconsistency has always bothered me.”

The advocacy group Hays represents focuses on how racial disparity permeates American society, particularly in the justice and prison systems. According to the NAACP, almost 60 percent of the prisoners in the U.S. are African-Americans and Hispanics, even though those minorities make up only 25 percent of the nation’s population.

“We see the war on drugs as the single most important contributor to that disparity,” Hays said. “I think it is an issue that is urgent for our society to address.”

The American Civil Liberties Union shares his view.

According to an ACLU report released last year, even though the two races use marijuana at the same rate, blacks across the nation are almost four times more likely to be arrested for possession than whites.

The same report identifies Iowa as the worst state in the nation in terms of racial disparity when it comes to marijuana-related arrests. In Iowa, blacks are eight times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession of the drug.

Hays, along with the ACLU, see decriminalization of the drug at the local level as a viable way to tackle that disparity.

“Localities can make decisions about what they choose to emphasize in law enforcement and what not to emphasize,” Hays said. “We would like to see Cedar Falls make marijuana arrests a low priority for the police so that they not spend time and resources trying to bust people with possession.”

Legalizing the drug in Iowa would require a change in state or federal law, but according to Alan Kemp, executive director of the Iowa League of Cities, city councils have the authority to decriminalize possession of marijuana.

Hays sees Cedar Falls as fertile ground for this kind of reform thanks to City Councilman Nick Taiber, who has become an outspoken advocate of decriminalization.

“I think Councilman Taiber has presented us with a really good opportunity to do some education on this,” Hays said. “I think it’s great he’s raising this issue.”

The ordinance Hays and his group plans to present to the Cedar Falls City Council is being drafted by Quinn Symonds and Aaron Schoeneman, a pair of marijuana activists from Mason City and Ames respectively. Symonds and Schoeneman hope their decriminalization ordinance will serve as a template that activists can bring before city governments across the state.

The first stop is the Cedar Falls City Council, and at least three of its seven members have already voiced opposition to decriminalization.

But Hays isn’t worried.

“There’s a national trend in our favor. and hopefully at some point the council will see fit to change the policy,” he said. “You don’t go into these things expecting instant results. You have to keep pushing at it.”

Hays said he is open to taking the decriminalization ordinance to the Waterloo City Council if it receives approval in Cedar Falls. He previously worked with the Waterloo Neighborhood Coalition.

Those interested in learning more about the Cedar Valley Citizens for Undoing Racism and the War on Drugs task force’s marijuana decriminalization efforts may contact Hays at