NORML ISU wins court case


Heather Milder, senior in animal ecology and member of NORML ISU, wears the controversial T-shirt at the first NORML meeting Sept. 17

Michaela Ramm

The Iowa State Chapter for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has reached a settlement in the lawsuit against Iowa State University.

The plaintiffs representing NORML ISU brought the case forward against university officials Steven Leath, Warren Madden, Thomas Hill and Leesha Zimmerman.

The case was brought forward by Paul Gerlich and Erin Furleigh, then-president and vice president of the organization, when NORML claimed a violation of its First Amendment rights after the university denied a T-shirt design.

The design depicted the ISU mascot with a cannabis leaf, and the request to use the image of Cy was denied by the university’s trademark office.

James Gritzer, a judge in the U.S. District Court, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, who claimed a violation of the First and 14 Amendment rights.

“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 include the image of a similar cannabis leaf,” the court documents stated.

Gerlich and Furleigh were represented by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an organization that works to protect the rights of students and faculty members on national campuses.

“Today’s U.S. District Court opinion in the NORML case is disappointing,” University Relations Executive Director John McCarroll wrote in an email to the Daily on Friday. Iowa State will consult with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office to determine if the order will be appealed.”

Josh Montgomery, an ISU alumnus who founded NORML ISU in 2012, said he was disappointed in the university’s statement on the verdict.

“It’s unfortunate that [McCarroll] would still stand in the face of students’ right to advocate for what they believe in, especially if it is in a civilized manner and within students’ rights for free speech,” Montgomery said.

The student organization received a rejection from Iowa State Trademark Licensing Office on June 10, 2013 in regards to a T-shirt design the students submitted. 

Iowa State’s Trademark Licensing Office requires student organizations to get approval before using any of the university marks, including terms such as “ISU,” “Iowa State,” “Iowa State University” and “Cyclones,” as well as images of Cy.

Montgomery said the university “couldn’t have been more supportive in the early stages.” However, he said the organization was taken aback when it was told it couldn’t make the T-shirts, and the adviser was removed within the same meeting with administrators.

“T-shirts aside, I didn’t understand this,” Montgomery said. “When something doesn’t feel right, when an individual feels violated in the way students were on that day, it just doesn’t feel right. It just feels off. There was something in the air. It was apparent to everyone in the room that day.”

The complaint was filed July 1, 2014 for alleged violations of the organization’s First and 14 Amendment rights, which were filed on four counts against the university, according to the court documents. 

“Plaintiffs allege Madden and Zimmerman’s actions, endorsed by Leath and Hill, violated clearly established constitutional rights of which reasonable administrators and staff should have known,” the documents stated.

Montgomery said he is very happy with the outcome of the case, and called it a victory for the students.

“ISU is an incredible institution, but when it was the students against the administrators, something was lost,” he said. “This was for the students, but at the same time, this was a very just outcome. The university is the students as much as it is the administrators.”