ISU penalizes men’s lacrosse after parking outside marijuana dispensary


A survey found that as of 2020, Colorado has 14.1 dispensaries per 50,000 residents, ranking it the fourth highest state in dispensaries per capita.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include an email sent to FIRE on Feb. 10. by Iowa State University’s legal counsel.

While stopping for lunch during a team trip, the men’s lacrosse team parked outside a legal marijuana dispensary as they had nowhere else to leave their car. The university then stripped them of their vehicle privileges citing a speeding ticket for their rationale, but the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression disagrees.

High Plainz Strains is a legal marijuana dispensary operating out of Sedgwick, Colorado. On Nov. 13, a few members of the team parked an Iowa State University-owned suburban near this dispensary while they were eating at a nearby restaurant. During this time, an unknown third party took a photo of the vehicle and dispensary. There is no evidence of any team members going into or purchasing any products from the dispensary.

After the original publication of this article, the Office of Strategic Relations and Communications reached out to the Daily and shared the letter the university sent to responding to FIRE’s claims. In the letter, issued by General Counsel and Chief Risk Officer Michael Norton, it is stated as part of the conditions for rental university vehicles, all renters agree to obey traffic laws and safely operate vehicles.

He also stated that the club nor members of the club received any disciplinary sanction under the university’s Student Code of Conduct. Instead, the penalty was tied to the group’s reckless and dangerous misuse of the privilege, Norton wrote.

“In reality, the lacrosse club and the individual driver of the university vehicle have temporarily lost the privilege of renting vehicles owned and maintained by University Transportation Services solely because of the club’s reckless use of a university vehicle. As detailed in the documentation attached to your correspondence, and provided to club leadership, the club members were observed driving at a reckless and dangerous rate of speed and were later cited for speeding by law enforcement while using a university vehicle during an official club activity,” Norton wrote to FIRE on Feb. 10.

The photo was sent to Barstool ISU (@barstoolisu), an Instagram account for Iowa State student content that is not affiliated with the university. The post has since been deleted, but it was public long enough for the university to get involved.

“Some rando took it,” said Max Gula, lacrosse team president. “I’ve reached out personally to one of the admins at Barstool to confirm that none of the guys on our team sent him the photo, which was something we were thinking might have happened. We don’t know how it got to Barstool.”

The team was called into a meeting with recreation services to discuss the photo and their punishment Dec. 8.

The team is not only banned from using university vehicles for the remainder of the semester, but also from driving themselves in their personal vehicles. This means in order to travel, they will have to rent their own shuttle buses with a hired driver, which is out of their current budget.

“We have had to cancel trips at this point that we’ve established we’ve been going to since June,” Gula said.

With cancellation comes fees, digging the team deeper into financial hardships. Fundraising efforts and dues have increased in order to try and pay their cancellation fees and transportation costs. Player dues have increased by $200 a semester, and it still is not enough.

At least five members of the team have quit solely because they can no longer afford to play.

With nowhere else to go, the team reached out to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) for help. FIRE firmly believes the punishment goes against the team’s First Amendment rights.

“We wrote a letter to the university on Feb. 3, explaining the First Amendment and due process issues here,” said Zachary Greenberg, program officer for the campus right to advocacy. “In our letter, we call the university to rescind the sanctions that they put on the lacrosse team because this punishment violated their free speech rights.”

Iowa State felt that its reputation was hurt due to the photo. However, Greenberg stated that public universities must follow the First Amendment and respect students’ right to expression.

“They shouldn’t punish students for expression that’s not even theirs,” Greenberg said. “They were punished for the actions of a third party. The Barstool Instagram account that students had nothing to do with.”

Nathan Pick, senior assistant director of sports programs, was involved in the punishment given. During the reporting of this story, The Daily reached out to him Feb. 10, he said over email, “We received a letter from FIRE and are reviewing it. We have no other comment at this time.”

Shortly after this, FIRE received a response from Iowa State regarding the team’s punishment.

“The university claims that the whole punishment was based on a speeding ticket that the group got in October, and the photo had no basis at all for the punishment,” Greenberg said. “This does not strike us as very plausible because when the administrators were meeting with the students, they consistently stressed the importance of reputation, how the photo embarrassed them and how the photo is really the basis of the punishment.”

Norton stated that the lacrosse team, or any individual player, did not receive any punishment from the photo taken.

“As you acknowledge as a possibility, it does not appear the FIRE has a full and correct understanding of the facts associated with the incident referenced in your correspondence,” Norton wrote.

This speeding ticket refers to Gula being pulled over while driving a university vehicle after competing Oct. 23.

Included in the FIRE letter is an email sent from Pick to Gula, stating the situations and punishments for the team. A speeding ticket and the dispensary photo are listed, recommending an individual punishment to Gula for speeding, and a team punishment for the photo. Gula received a one-game suspension for the spring 2023 season.

“The only action taken by the university with respect to the club was the temporary  suspension of the club/driver’s privilege to rent university vehicles,” Norton wrote in the letter to FIRE. “While there was an  educational and development discussion with club leadership about university vehicles  representing the university and being used for official university purposes only, and  therefore how the reckless driving and associated social media posts may reflect on the university, this educational discussion was separate and not related in any way to the  transportation services restriction of rental privileges.” 

FIRE has also commented on Iowa State’s history with free speech and marijuana, referring to the university rescinding approval of a T-shirt design from NORML, a pro-legalization of marijuana group. The shirt featured Cy and a design with the phrases “Legalize IT” and “NORML ISU Supports Legalizing Marijuana.” After FIRE sued over this in 2017, Iowa State paid almost $1 million for violating the First Amendment.

“We’d like to hold administrators accountable for robbing students’ rights,” Greenberg said. “We wrote a blog about this. We like to name and shame, call them out, for not adhering to their responsibilities.”

As of now, Iowa State will not make any revisions to the punishment, according to Greenberg.

“We signed up to play lacrosse, not to have our rights taken,” Gula said.