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 http://norml.org/laws/.

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 allen.hays@uni.edu.

Attorney: NORML lawsuit about “more than T-shirts”

Attorney: NORML lawsuit about “more than T-shirts”

Posted November 19, 2014 – 12:54pm

By Melissa Erickson
Associate Editor

DES MOINES — While it all started with a T-shirt, an Iowa State University student group’s grievances with university administrators go beyond wanting to use the university’s mascot on their pro-marijuana legalization shirts, an attorney representing the group said Wednesday.

Students Paul Gerlich and Erin Furleigh, the current president and vice president of ISU’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa against ISU and four of its administrators on July 1. In it, the group claimed the university used “viewpoint-based discrimination” by not allowing the group to use the university’s mascot Cy on a T-shirt that also featured a cannabis leaf, and was trying to restrict the group’s message.

ISU, which is represented by the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, has asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed, saying the trademarks are the property of ISU alone and that ISU NORML has no First Amendment claim to use them.

At a hearing Wednesday at the U.S. Courthouse in Des Moines, Assistant Attorney General Tyler Smith said the university always retains the rights to its trademarks, and that there had been public pushback to the first T-shirt because it appeared ISU was endorsing marijuana reform.

Smith said university trademark use approval is “not a one-way ratchet,” and that sometimes people don’t realize something could appear to be supported by the university until it is in the public.

“The courts have recognized that there is a line somewhere between trademark use and free speech,” Smith said.

Smith also said ISU NORML has been recognized as a student group and receives funding from the university.

In his response, attorney Robert Corn-Revere, who is representing ISU NORML, said the T-shirt issue led to a number of other events where the group’s speech was limited.

“Just because you don’t ban an organization doesn’t mean you don’t violate their rights in other ways,” Corn-Revere said.

He said the university has also limited ISU NORML by revoking the prior T-shirt approval, not approving two additional shirt designs and removing the group’s faculty advisor.

Vice President of Student Affairs Tom Hill, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, was appointed as the group’s interim faculty advisor, which Corn-Revere said allowed Hill to “pass on criticism from the university president” to the group.

Corn-Revere said ISU’s trademarks are used on beer mugs, shot glasses and football helmets, but those uses aren’t taken to mean the university promotes alcohol or “dangerous behavior.”

He compared the case to lawsuits the Fifth and Eighth Circuit U.S. Courts of Appeals have decided that dealt with private groups designing vanity license plates.

While license plates are distributed by the government, “no one would expect that the people who get these plates are the government speaking,” he said.

Chief Justice James Gritzner asked Smith what the difference is between using the university’s mascot and using just “ISU.”

Smith said using the university’s mascot goes farther than just using the university’s name, and that public pushback to the first T-shirt was part of the problem.

“ISU, when authorizing the use of its marks, retains the right to not allow use when it appears it endorses use of illegal drugs,” Smith said.

As for Hill being appointed the group’s interim advisor, “they say that had a chilling effect, but they don’t say how, they don’t cite any specific examples,” Smith said.

Smith said there are no allegations that ISU NORML wasn’t able to conduct their group meetings, weren’t able to propose T-shirt designs or do other group activities.

In addition to Hill, the lawsuit names as defendants ISU President Steven Leath, Vice President for Business and Finance Warren Madden and Leesha Zimmerman, program director of ISU’s trademark licensing office.

Speaking with reporters after the hearing, Corn-Revere said the case carries broader implications about the power of a government body to control political discourse.

“It’s about whether or not university administrators can control a political message on current political topics by a student group,” he said.

Gritzner did not issue a ruling on the motion to dismiss at Wednesday’s hearing.
– See more at: http://amestrib.com/news/attorney-norml-lawsuit-about-more-t-shirts#sthash.LBjJAPbo.dpuf

NORML ISU will have hearing against the university

NORML ISU will have hearing against the university

Posted: Wednesday, November 19, 2014 12:00 am

By Erin Malloy, erin.malloy@iowastatedaily.com

The motion to dismiss regarding the lawsuit filed by members of NORML ISU against four ISU administrators will be heard today at 9 a.m. before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa.

Members of the ISU student chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws filed a federal lawsuit in July against university administrators, alleging that new trademark regulations were adopted to restrict the group’s message. NORML ISU claims that this suppressed their First Amendment right to free speech. University administrators filed a motion on Sept. 4 to have the case dismissed.

NORML ISU’s president Paul Gerlich, junior in software engineering, and vice president Erin Furleigh, junior in genetics, filed the lawsuit against President Steven Leath, Tom Hill, senior vice president for student affairs, Warren Madden, senior vice president for business and finance, and Leesha Zimmerman, trademark office program coordinator.

The group initially had a T-shirt design approved by the university that included Cy and a cannibis leaf. According to the lawsuit, Hill and Madden met with representatives of NORML ISU and announced that Iowa State had withdrawn its approval of the T-shirt design.

In January 2013, the trademark policy was revised to restrict any designs that promote “dangerous, illegal or unhealthy products, actions or behaviors” or “drugs and drug paraphernalia that are illegal or unhealthful.”

After the trademark guideline revisions, the university approved multiple T-shirt designs for NORML ISU. However, in June 2013, the trademark office rejected a design that said “NORML ISU Supports Marijuana Legalization” across the front with the picture of a cannabis leaf.

In the motion to dismiss submitted by Thomas Miller, the attorney general of Iowa, the claims of Gerlich and Furleigh should be dismissed for failing to provide sufficient facts “to establish any constitutional right in the use of ISU’s marks, that they lacked adequate alternative avenues for communicating their message without ISU’s marks.”

The motion to dismiss, filed by the university argues, all defendants should be dismissed because they qualify as public officials acting within the scope of their authority, “except those who are ‘plainly incompetent’ or ‘knowingly violate the law’.”

A scheduling conference is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. on Nov. 21 to determine how the case will proceed.

Mason City man asks: How to get city council’s attention on de-criminalizing marijuana?

Mason City man asks: How to get city council’s attention on decriminalizing marijuana?

Submitted by Quinn Symonds of Mason City –

Quinn Symonds of Mason City

Today the news broke, or at least the silence did. A super secret project between myself a city councilman and a high ranking member of Iowa’s NORML was leaked. Nick Taiber, a Cedar Falls councilperson reached out to me and my group a few months back about a project. He had some serious concerns that I couldn’t ignore. He told me some things that I knew already but did a great job of putting it into perspective.

Basically prohibition is racist, and prohibition in Iowa is as racist as it gets. The facts are this, in Iowa blacks make up less than 5% of the actual population, but make up more than 25% of the prison population. Usage of marijuana between races in Iowa is virtually equal, yet blacks are 8.53 times more likely to get arrested as white people, and in his city where he helps govern the stats are even worse.

This led civil rights groups like the Cedar Valley group for Undoing Racism to reach out to him because they knew as a libertarian leaning councilmember he would be sympathetic to ending the war on drugs. That led Nick to my group, Iowa First, asking for any help that we could provide. Well, we will have our decriminalization bill completed within the next few weeks to be presented. It is professional and thorough, and legal for any city in Iowa to implement.

Would Scott Tornquist be OK with legalized marijuana in town?

Now you can argue whatever angle you want to say there isn’t racism involved, I would actually ask that you do. My challenge for you though, is to do it in a non-racist manner. You could argue an education and poverty gap, you could also argue that young black folks are just more scared of police than white people. If you want to call reverse racism there, however there are studies that show that police are more likely to shoot black people than white people too. Getting back on track I personally blame the quotas given to the drug task teams to appropriate their funding from state and federal agencies, scared young black people make easy targets.

So what makes this so unique? Well we have a councilman jumping through all the hoops to get something done for the people of his community. His city government is a bit different than what we are used to up here by Mason City, his is a mayor strong government. In Mason City and from what I understand most surrounding communities we have a council strong government. So for Nick it’s a little bit harder, but he’s trying and that speaks mountains towards his personal integrity.

Janet Solberg: Likely or not to be OK with weed?

For something like this to pass in Mason City All we would need is a super majority vote between the council members. Four council members to say ok, that will work. Sounds easy right, not really. Council members in Mason City have done a great job of insulating themselves. I have never gotten so much as a reply from an email, and when I see one after a meeting they run. Kuhn does talk to me however, but it’s usually at a democrat event and I’m usually gushing over his wonderfully sculpted hair. And honestly if any of these councilmembers want to play the victim card against me, I want to hear it.

So how do you get the attention of your council when they don’t pay attention and a simple super majority vote would decriminalize marijuana in Mason City as well? Well I could write a long blog calling them out like I am now. I could also include many points showing how other councilmembers across Iowa are working hard for their citizens like I am now. I could spend the rest of my time talking about how police could better spend their time patrolling for real criminals. After all, it would help out our city in more ways than one. We did embarrassingly lose our human rights commission, this would certainly make our city look more progressive than regressive. It would keep our jails less full by making simple possessions like a parking ticket up to certain amounts. Not victimless crimes like smoking a bowl before bed, or even ease pain that currently “legal” medications in Iowa don’t help.

Nick Taiber, a Cedar Falls councilperson

I’m also a big fan of bringing back community service for offenders. I know our highways need cleaning. I wasn’t impressed finding a Fazoli’s cup out by Indianhead Square 10 years after it had been closed when I adopted a portion of the highway. I know the fairgrounds could use some help cleaning, as well as our many parks could use some free help. The bill is nearing its completion and will be done within the next week, maybe two and will be very malleable for any city in Iowa to use, in fact we encourage you reach out to us to use it.

The point is, this is what good local government looks like. I would love to see several Nick Taibors sitting on our council guiding our city. Even in a council strong government like ours he would be able to make a larger impact. Our council has a lot to learn from him and silly me, I admire his courage and dedication and I’m proud to be part of this movement.

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.

Iowa Gubernatorial candidate talks criminal justice in I.C.

Iowa Gubernatorial candidate talks criminal justice in I.C.

Mitchell Schmidt, Iowa City Press-Citizen 10:01 p.m. CDT September 16, 2014

One area independent gubernatorial candidate, Jonathan Narcisse, is spending this election season focused on criminal justice in Iowa.

Narcisse, a member of the Iowa Party, spoke to a a small crowd — many of whom with his campaign — Tuesday at the Coralville Public Library, centering largely on disparities in the state’s criminal justice system.

In the public forum, titled Justice Delayed, Justice Denied, Narcisse drew attention to Iowa Department of Corrections numbers while exploring potential solutions by providing jobs, fixing the education program, creating real mental health solutions and decriminalizing marijuana charges.

“The ability to understand, forecast and offer solutions to these challenges is critical. It’s not just enough to talk about the problem,” Narcisse said. “The time has come that we must have the courage to act because the consequences from failing to act are far too devastating.”

Narcisse pointed to legalizing marijuana, both medical and recreational, as having the potential to greatly reduce the disparity in Iowa prisons.

Narcisse said he would support reducing simple marijuana possession charges from criminal to civil offenses while issuing grower’s permits — with marijuana being sold at state-operated stores and the state receiving a percentage of sales revenue to use for needed services like education and mental health.

The change would reduce the use of other drugs, bring down the number of Iowans serving prison sentences for such charges and create an economic generator for the entire state, Narcisse said.

“Sometimes you have to take positions because they’re right,” he said. “I see no real difference between smoking cigarettes, drinking whiskey and smoking pot.”

With the Iowa Party, Narcisse said the group isn’t aiming for a massive number of voters, but rather key individuals to take on uncontested incumbents in small, local elections.

“If we get one person at some point who will run for us, that’s all we need,” Narcisse said.

Nicholas Dreeszen, from West Des Moines, who was Narcisse’s lone supporter at the forum, said he greatly appreciates Narcisse’s approach to the criminal justice system.

“It’s time for a change, especially to the growing problems that we’re having as a nation with criminal justice,” Dreeszen said. “I think that his solutions that it is a multi-sided thing that we need to attack on all fronts is exactly right.”

Reach Mitchell Schmidt at maschmidt@press-citizen.com or at 887-5402.