A federal judge has denied Iowa State's request to dismiss the freedom of speech case filed by members of NORML ISU, a marijuana legalization advocacy group.
Chief Judge James E. Gritzner of the the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa filed a 19-page order rejecting Iowa State's argument that the case is more about trademark issues than freedom of speech.
The lawsuit, filed last July by NORML ISU President Paul Gerlich and member Erin Furleigh, alleges Iowa State and four administrators violated their First Amendment rights when they used the university’s trademark policies to stop NORML from using ISU logos on items promoting the organization.
Defendants 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.
The lawsuit was filed after:
On Feb. 12, 2013 the ISU Trademark Office approved a t-shirt design submitted by NORML ISU that stated “NORML ISU” on the front and “We are NORML” across the back with no image of a marijuana leaf. On April 15, 2013, the Trademark Office approved another t-shirt design that simply stated “NORML ISU Student Chapter” on the front.
In May or June 2013, the organization submitted another t-shirt design to the Trademark Office for approval. The front of this t-shirt had the slogan “NORML ISU Supports Legalizing Marijuana” with a marijuana leaf graphic.
The back of the t-shirt design spelled out the acronym NORML: “National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.” On June 13, 2013, Zimmerman, on behalf of the Trademark Office, denied the T-shirt design, stating that it represented a call to action and the message could be misconstrued as the university's position on marijuana.
"As an initial matter, the Court must address Defendants’ creative argument that this case really alleges trademark protection issues rather than constitutional violations," wrote Gritzner. "While that may be the issue in quite different factual circumstances, the Court must conclude it is not the issue at bar."
Gritzner also cited other cases in which, "Courts have long afforded protection to First Amendment rights of students at public colleges and universities."
NORML ISU is being represented by the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine, while the Iowa Attorney General's Office is representing the university.
“We’re very pleased with the court’s decision to deny every part of ISU’s motion to dismiss,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said in a news release. “FIRE looks forward to a successful outcome that affirms ISU students’ right to freely advocate for their beliefs.”
Annette Hacker, an ISU Spokesperson released an official statement Thursday.
"We believe the determination is very preliminary, and that Iowa State University should retain the right to administer its own trademarks,” Hacker said.
A jury trial has been scheduled for Dec. 14.