Judge will consider ISU’s motion to dismiss marijuana T-shirts lawsuit

Iowa State University’s trademarks are the school’s property, and their use suggests ISU endorses a particular message, the university is arguing in their attempt to have a lawsuit filed by a marijuana advocacy student group dismissed.

Arguments on the university’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by members of the ISU chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law, or NORML, will be heard next week before the chief justice of the District Court for the Southern District of Iowa.

ISU students Paul Gerlich and Erin Furleigh, the current president and vice president of NORML ISU, filed the lawsuit this summer arguing that the university was trying to restrict the group’s message by not allowing them to use ISU’s mascot Cy on their organization’s T-shirts.

In October 2012, ISU administrators initially approved NORML’s T-shirt design, which pictured Cy on the front and read “Freedom is NORML at ISU” on the back with an image of a small cannabis leaf. Administrators later withdrew their approval “after state officials and some members of the public complained about its political message advocating the legalization of marijuana,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that ISU administrators adopted new trademark regulations “expressly to restrict NORML ISU’s message,” and rejected two additional T-shirt designs the group submitted.

In doing so, the lawsuit argues, administrators suppressed the group’s right to free speech protected by the First Amendment.

“(NORML ISU) has no First Amendment right to the use of ISU’s trademarks, which are the property of ISU that, by their use, suggest ISU’s endorsement of particular messages,” the university argues in its most recent filing to support the motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

ISU’s trademarks and the right to determine how they are used are a form of government speech, and NORML ISU has “no First Amendment right to dictate ISU’s government speech, specifically by exercising control over its trademarks,” the filing says.

The university also argues that NORML has not suffered “viewpoint discrimination” because the group has been recognized as a student group and received funding from the university, but “seeks special and previously unrecognized entitlement to use school trademarks as they deem fit under the auspices of free speech.”

Court documents filed in the case indicate that the lawsuit will be “trial ready” by mid-December 2015.

The hearing on ISU’s motion to dismiss will be held next Wednesday at the U.S. Courthouse in Des Moines before Chief Judge James E. Gritzner.