Judge Denies ISU’s Request to Delay Marijuana Shirt Ruling

The main T-shirt design under litigation in the Gerlich v. Leath case.

U.S. District Court Judge James Gritzner has denied Iowa State University’s request to stay a ruling requiring the university to allow pro-pot reform student group NORML ISU to resume printing T-shirts with ISU logos alongside an image of a cannabis leaf. Gritzner issued his initial ruling last month, granting a permanent injunction on First Amendment grounds to prevent the university from engaging in viewpoint discrimination since it changed its trademark policy to prevent its logos from being used with images that “suggested promotion of … drugs and drug paraphernalia that are illegal or unhealthful,” among other things.

In its motion to stay, ISU arged that the “effect of the order and injunction would be to compel Defendants to license ISU trademarks to be co-branded with other non-university trademarks (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws) a pot leaf, which is a widely (though perhaps not unanimously) recognized symbol of illicit drug use, and legislative proposals, which ISU is prohibited from endorsing.”

In his response today, Gritzner — who has consistently been skeptical of the university’s case — rejected the argument:

Defendants contend Iowa State University’s trademarks will suffer irreparable harm absent a stay of the injunction. However, in support of this assertion Defendants have offered no more than speculation and conclusory statements that university trademarks will be harmed by NORML ISU’s use of the marks alongside images of cannabis leaves similar to those previously included in designs approved by Defendants. Conversely, Plaintiffs would be irreparably harmed by a stay, because “loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.”

Robert Corn-Revere, the prominent D.C.-based First Amendment lawyer representing the student group and adjunct scholar at the libertarian think-tank Cato Institute, correctly predicted earlier this month that ISU’s motion would be denied.

ISU is still appealing Gritzner’s January ruling. The university has not issued a statement in response to the denial of the motion to stay but spokesman John McCarroll noted that it still has the opportunity to ask the appeals court to stay Gritzner’s district court ruling.

Plaintiffs’ response to ISU’s motion to stay Gritzner’s ruling:


Gritzner’s order denying the motion to stay:

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.