Iowa State Students Challenge T-Shirt Ban

In 2012, officials at Iowa State University barred the local chapter of NORML from using the Cy mascot logo on T-shirts. Now, students are fighting back.

Two students are suing the school, seeking a ruling that its trademark licensing office violated their First Amendment rights when they were prevented from using the Cy logo on marijuana-themed T-shirts.

Paul Gerlich and Erin Furleigh, both juniors, filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa. Gerlich and Furleigh are president and vice president, respectively, of the local student branch of NORML.

The controversy began two years ago, when a photo of the group’s T-shirts ended up in The Des Moines Register. The school banned the use of Cy after receiving complaints from state lawmakers, who worried the shirts might giver the impression the university supports weed.

But Furleigh and Gerlich say school officials approved the T-shirts before the photo appeared in the paper.

“Students Paul Gerlich and Erin Furleigh and the more than 500 members of NORML ISU want to advocate a policy change that is being implemented in a growing number of states – the legalization of marijuana,” the lawsuit says. “By policy and practice, however, ISU unlawfully restricts its students’ and faculty’s constitutional right to free expression.”

Last year, school officials added a clause to their trademark policy that bars the use of Cy in connection with “drugs and drug paraphernalia.” The university has since rejected two requests to use the logo on shirts with a cannabis leaf.

The ban “hindered NORML ISU from challenging the orthodoxy that marijuana use should be prohibited,” the lawsuit says.

The two students sued the school; university President Steven Leath; Warren Madden, senior vice president of business and financial affairs; and Thomas Hill, senior vice president for student affairs. The suit is backed by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which is pushing similar litigation nationwide.

Marijuana is illegal in Iowa, except for limited medical uses. Possession of any amount is a misdemeanor, punishable by six months in jail and a $1,000 fine on a first conviction. On subsequent convictions, penalties increase to a maximum of two years in prison and a fine of more than $6,000.

Lawmakers recently passed a bill legalizing the use of a non-intoxicating marijuana strain to treat epileptic seizures. The strain is used to create CBD oil, a cannabis extract high in a chemical known as CBD.

CBD is believed to quiet seizure activity in the brain, relieving symptoms for patients with severe epilepsy. At the same time, the strain is low in THC, the chemical that gets users high. Iowa is one of 11 states to legalize CBD weed.

About Brian Ellis

With 6 years' experience in business journalism, Brian is the person we turn to for anything related to the business of cannabis. His news coverage spans topics including marijuana business and finance. Brian's work features on, and