Iowa State University cannot bar a student group from using the university’s logo and mascot on T-shirts advocating the legalization of marijuana, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.
The lawsuit, sponsored by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education as part of its Stand Up for Free Speech Litigation Project, was filed by two former Iowa State students in 2014. At the time, the students were officers with the university’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. They had repeatedly sought permission to use the Iowa State logo alongside a cannabis leaf on their shirts, but their requests were denied, with the university saying it did not want to appear to be endorsing the group’s agenda.
But the court’s opinion noted that the university allows 800 other student groups to use the logo, including organizations with differing political viewpoints, such as the Iowa State Democrats and the ISU College Republicans. “NORML ISU’s use of the cannabis leaf does not violate ISU’s trademark policies because the organization advocates for reform to marijuana laws, not the illegal use of marijuana,” the panel wrote.
The university had originally allowed the group to use its logo and mascot on the shirts, until the chapter’s president was quoted in a local newspaper suggesting that the university supported NORML’s mission. According to emails shared among university officials and included in the lawsuit, local politicians pressured the university to revoke its approval of the T-shirts. One such email came from the governor’s office.
“Any time someone from the governor’s staff calls complaining, yeah, I’m going to pay attention,” Steven Leath, Iowa State’s president, said during his deposition.
When NORML requested permission to use the trademarked logo in a new order of the shirts, the request was put on hold while the university changed its