Appeals court rules against Iowa State in pro marijuana T-shirt case

Appeals court rules against Iowa State in pro marijuana T-shirt case

Court: ISU engaged in ‘viewpoint discrimination’

Vanessa Miller
The Gazette

Feb 13, 2017 at 5:33 pm

A three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals’ Eighth Circuit has upheld a federal court’s decision blocking Iowa State University from using its trademark policy to stop a campus student group advocating marijuana legalization from printing T-shirts.

ISU students Erin Furleigh and Paul Gerlich — former officers with Iowa State’s National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws chapter — filed the lawsuit in July 2014, accusing the university of heavy-handed, politically motivated scrutiny over their use of Iowa State logos.

According to a news release Monday from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education — or FIRE, through which the ISU lawsuit was filed — the Eighth Circuit found ISU administrators engaged in “unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.”

According to the ruling, the court determined Iowa State followed an “unusual trademark approval process with respect to all of NORML ISU’s trademark design applications” after a Des Moines Register article was published, causing some political backlash.

The original lawsuit accused administrators of censoring NORML ISU’s T-shirt design based on their marijuana messaging and imagery, both removing the group’s adviser and changing university guidelines to restrict the group’s speech.

The lawsuit states the ISU Trademark Licensing Office approved a NORML ISU T-shirt design in 2012 that includes the group’s name and ISU mascot, along with an image of a cannabis leaf. When the Register a few weeks later ran a photo with one of the T-shirts, criticism prompted administrators to rescind approval of the designs and change the rules.

According to Monday’s ruling, ISU administrators “at least implied that the additional scrutiny imposed on NORML ISU was due to the views for which it was advocating.” It went on to say the administration was motivated “at least in part by pressure from Iowa politicians.”

“The district court did not err by concluding that defendants violated plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights because defendants engaged in viewpoint discrimination,” according to the ruling.

ISU spokeswoman Annette Hacker said the university is reviewing the decision and hasn’t decided yet whether to appeal.

In a statement, Gerlich said he’s been encouraged by the strong unanimous decisions coming from the court, “backing what we knew to be true from day one.”

“I’m excited that this case sets a precedent that protects students locally and throughout the nation,” Gerlich said in the statement.

Attorney Robert Corn-Revere, who represented the students, also said in a statement he’s encouraged by the precedent this case sets.

“The decision confirms that universities cannot grant or withhold benefits based on students’ political views,” he said. “And that includes their trademark programs.”

(319) 339-3158;

Iowa State University loses appeal in marijuana T-shirt case

Iowa State University loses appeal in marijuana T-shirt case

Jeff Charis-Carlson ,
Published 1:04 p.m. CT Feb. 13, 2017

Iowa State University has lost an appeal in a federal free speech lawsuit that affirms student rights regardless of political viewpoint.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Monday that ISU administrators including President Steven Leath violated First Amendment rights of two students who were top officers of the ISU chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws.

The students planned to print T-shirts depicting the school mascot and a marijuana leaf but Leath and others claimed it violated the school’s trademark policy.

The three-judge panel unanimously upheld a federal judge’s ruling last year that declared the school’s policy violated the students’ free speech rights and barred the university from prohibiting printing the T-shirt. Both rulings state that the university’s rejection of NORML ISU’s T-shirt designs discriminated against the student group on the basis of the group’s political viewpoint.

In its appeal, ISU officials argued, among other points, that the U.S. Constitution and a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision gave ISU officials discretion in permitting trademark use.

The court disagreed.

“NORML ISU’s sue of the cannibis leaf does not violate ISU’s trademark policies because the organization advocates for reform to marijuana laws, not the illegal use of marijuana,” Monday’s ruling stated.

Students Erin Furleigh and Paul Gerlich, both former presidents of the NORML chapter at ISU, sued the university in July 2014 after officials rejected the student group’s already approved T-shirt design — which included a marijuana leaf over the words “Freedom is NormL at ISU.”

“I’m most excited about the ruling being unanimous,” Gerlich said in a phone interview Monday. “That shows how we were clearly in the right from the start.”

In their original complaint, the students detailed how the university censored the group’s T-shirts based on their marijuana-related messaging and imagery, removed NORML ISU’s adviser and implemented new guidelines for using ISU’s trademark in order to restrict NORML ISU’s speech.

Gerlich told the Register last year that he and Furleigh began seriously considering legal action after the university determined that could not even print the name of their organization on the T-shirts because the “M” stood for marijuana.

The suit is part of the Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project, overseen by the national organization Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

“We are so pleased to see Paul and Erin’s victory unanimously affirmed by the Eighth Circuit today,” Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon, FIRE’s director of litigation, said in a news release. “Paul and Erin had the courage to stand up for their First Amendment rights, and thousands of students in seven states will now benefit from their commitment.”

University officials acknowledged Monday’s ruling, but offer no further comment.

“We are reviewing the court’s decision and have not decided whether to appeal,” ISU spokesman John McCarroll said via email.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Reach Jeff Charis-Carlson at or 319-887-5435. Follow him on Twitter at @jeffcharis.

Does industrial hemp have a future in Iowa?

Does industrial hemp have a future in Iowa?

Christopher Doering 11:41 a.m. CDT October 28, 2016

WASHINGTON — Supporters of industrial hemp are optimistic the crop has a future in a state known for sweeping fields of corn and soybeans.

Proponents of reintroducing hemp in Iowa — tens of thousands of acres dotted the landscape during World War II — have worked to build their case by distancing themselves from the plant’s infamous relative, marijuana.

They also tout the benefits of industrial hemp on the environment, local businesses that make products with the plant’s fibers or seeds, and farmers who would have another crop to add to their rotation.

“Our legislators really need to get on board and quit acting like it’s a drug, like people are going to smoke it and get high,” said Michelle Van Winkle, a board member at the Iowa Hemp Association. “They are putting limitations on science and medicine, when they don’t even understand it.”

Industrial hemp received a boost in 2014, when the farm bill allowed universities and state departments of agriculture to cultivate or conduct research as part of a pilot program.

Since the law went into effect, at least 30 states, including Minnesota, Nebraska and Illinois, have passed legislation related to the weedy plant, the National Conference of State Legislatures has estimated.

In Iowa, it remains illegal to grow hemp.

State Rep. John Forbes, an Urbandale Democrat who works as a pharmacist, introduced a bill in 2015 legalizing hemp production in Iowa, but it languished in the state Legislature. He said he would consider another attempt as soon as this session.

“As more and more legislators become educated in this area of industrial hemp and know that it’s not the same thing as medical marijuana, I think they are opening up to this possibly being a crop here in the state of Iowa,” he said. “I’m more optimistic now than I was 18 months ago when that legislation was filed.”

Industrial hemp has a long history in the United States. It was a key component in production of paper, clothing and ropes during colonial times.

Thomas Jefferson, who developed a machine to process hemp in 1815, and George Washington were among its most outspoken supporters.

The crop experienced a resurgence during World War II when the federal government instituted an emergency program to encourage farmers to produce hemp to help in the country’s war efforts.

To spur interest in 1942, the Agriculture Department produced the short film “Hemp for Victory” to educate producers about best growing practices and uses of the plant.

Hemp production surged from about 1 million pounds before the war to more than 150 million pounds on 146,200 harvested acres in 1943, according to the USDA. Iowa grew an estimated 40,000 acres when U.S. output was at its peak.

But production waned after the war. Production plunged to 3 million pounds on 2,800 harvested acres in 1948, and by the late 1950s the USDA said recorded production had ended.

In 1970, hemp, a member of the cannabis family, was placed on the list of controlled substances regulated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, because of its close connection to marijuana. It remains tightly regulated.

Unlike the marijuana plant, hemp must contain less than 0.3 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient responsible for causing high-inducing effects.

“From a historical perspective, there is good reason why if other states are exploring it it would make sense that Iowa would be one that would, just because of the history we have with the crop,” said Chad Hart, an Iowa State University agricultural economist.

Hart said industrial hemp “has potential” in Iowa, but it likely would remain a niche crop covering several tens of thousands of acres, similar to wheat production in Iowa that is grown on roughly 25,000 acres in the state.

“I could see industrial hemp being that sort of size, where it would be a crop that sort of fills in around the edges of a field but doesn’t dominate the landscape,” he said.

U.S. companies that use hemp in their products are allowed to import it — much of it from Canada.

Today, hemp is used in more than 25,000 products ranging from textiles and automotive to furniture, paper, body products and construction materials.

The Iowa Hemp Association has estimated annual sales of products containing the material in the United States increased from more than $400,000 in 2010 to about $600,000 in 2014.

Proponents of industrial hemp say it prevents soil erosion, needs minimal pesticides and absorbs heavy metals and other impurities in the soil. Farmers benefit from improved yields.

Growing hemp can increase corn and soybean yields the following year by an average of six and four bushels per acre, respectively, according to data from the Iowa Hemp Association.

“If we can’t grow it in our state, why can we import it into our state and use if for industry?” Van Winkle said. “Why not let farmers grow the hemp and let them capitalize and make money on that?”

Forbes acknowledged that even if a bill passed the Iowa Legislature, it would be another two years before Iowa State University or another school could begin growing test plots. Then it would take a couple more years for a small slice of Iowa’s farmers to apply to raise industrial hemp.

“We’re a fairly long ways away from getting a program in the state up and running,” he said.

The American Farm Bureau Federation supports commercializing industrial hemp production and having it regulated by the Agriculture Department, instead of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Dale Moore, executive director of public policy with the Farm Bureau, said for the market to be attractive for agricultural producers, it needs to be financially lucrative compared with corn, soybeans and other crops, and there needs to be an established network in place for hemp once it is harvested.

“It has to be a stable enough market that if I’m going to devote part of my farming operation to this other crop, then I need to be able to (move) it and it can’t be more than 200 miles away,” said Moore, whose grandfather and great-grandfather grew hemp during World War I and World War II. “That’s part of what we’re challenged with on some of these (new crops.) There is great promise there.”

Studies conducted by the Agriculture Department and universities across the country have found that while hemp may have a future, there are factors that likely will prevent it from being a major player in American agriculture.

One report from the USDA highlighted “uncertainty about long-run demand for hemp products and the potential for oversupply.”

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison concluded in 2004 that hemp production “is not likely to generate sizable profits” and could be hurt by yield variability, a lack of harvesting innovations and processing facilities in the United States, as well as challenges transporting the bulky material.

Little changed nearly a decade later when in 2013 the University of Kentucky noted that despite early positive returns, “it does not appear that anticipated hemp returns will be large enough to entice Kentucky grain growers to shift out of grain production.”

Justin Dammann a corn and soybean producer from Essex, said he would consider growing industrial hemp in light of low prices for corn, soybean and wheat.

“When there is no money in corn and soybeans at this point it’s not going to be hard to find growers,” he said. “As a (producer) we are always looking for premium-based markets that are suitable for our environment.”

Alta Libertarian challenges for state Senate

Alta Libertarian challenges for state Senate

One of those issues will be to end the “war on drugs” and legalize marijuana, according to Serianni.

“I am really against the drug war. It is overtaxing the people, and nothing is being changed as a result. I want to see the legalization of marijuana so we can tax it and get distribution out of the hands of black market people. Those people are living in HUD housing, living off welfare, being protected by police as informants — while they are out selling drugs. We can see it in Storm Lake.”

Colorado and Washington have shown that legalization of marijuana can be controlled and made profitable for the public, he said.

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.”

Forbes: Industrial hemp might be right for Iowa farmers

Forbes: Industrial hemp might be right for Iowa farmers

state Rep. John Forbes 11:05 p.m. CST March 2, 2015

The next “big thing” for Iowa agriculture could have a home right here in Urbandale. Industrial hemp is enjoying a huge resurgence of interest on the part of industry, farmers, nutritionists and green consumers. Could it be in the mix for Iowa agriculture?

Boris Shcharansky of Heartland Hemp Company in Urbandale is lobbying in Iowa for legislation allowing Iowa farmers to get involved in an industry that has grown from a national market of $250 million in 2011, to nearly $600 million in 2013. The firm is focused on developing specialized hemp plants.

Hemp is used in a staggering number of products, from textiles to building materials to industrial uses. Hemp seeds contain essential fatty acids. Hemp oil is used in salad oil, margarine and food supplements. The list goes on and on.

So is it time for Iowa farmers to cash in on industrial hemp?

While it is legal to import hemp ingredients for processing here, the United States is the only major industrialized country to prohibit large scale commercial production. It was banned in the 1930’s along with marijuana, even though hemp has little THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Hemp proponents say the only thing that happens when you smoke industrialized hemp is a bad headache.

Industrial hemp could have a positive impact on our environment. Hemp grows dense and vigorously. Sunlight cannot penetrate the plants to reach the ground, and this means the crop is normally free of weeds. The deep roots prevent soil erosion. It doesn’t need a lot of pesticide. Hemp could be used in rotation with other crops. It’s been called a “mop crop”, absorbing impurities from the soil.

Last year, as part of the Farm Bill, Congress passed legislation to allow industrial hemp pilot projects on the part of universities and Departments of Agriculture. One of the biggest proponents is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, where an industrial hemp pilot project is underway. Some 20 states from Maine to Hawaii have already cleared the way for industrial production by marking hemp as distinct from marijuana. Congressional Republicans and Democrats, who don’t agree on much, are together proposing even more sweeping legislation. The American Farm Bureau Federation at its meeting in January issued a strong statement in support of industrial hemp.

But what about Iowa? At least one bill introduced in 2013 in the Iowa Senate went nowhere. Shcharansky of Heartland Hemp says the Iowa Farm Bureau has no position on the issue. But he wants to change that. Shcharansky, who was born in Russia and grew up in Iowa, will be hitting the road for a series of town halls over the Spring and Summer to build support.

I believe Iowa farmers should be able to participate in the growing market for hemp products if they so choose, and in the process we might help with soil erosion and water quality, two important issues facing our state. I think industrial hemp is at least worth looking into.

STATE REP. JOHN FORBES, D-Urbandale, represents District 40 in the Iowa House of Representatives. The district includes much of Urbandale. He can be reached at or 778-7699 or 281-3221.

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.