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Federal appeals court rules for pro-marijuana student group denied trademarks

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] on Monday affirmed [opinion, PDF] a lower court ruling in favor of a pro-marijuana student group that was barred from using university trademarks. Iowa State University (ISU) [official website] allows student organizations to use its name and insignia on merchandise to raise awareness for causes. However, the school's chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws [advocacy website], or NORML ISU, was denied such trademarks after they were used on pro-marijuana clothing displaying cannabis leaves. The Eighth Circuit found that the school had created a limited public forum for speech upon offering its trademarks to organizations under certain conditions. In such cases, state universities may not "discriminate against speech on the basis of its viewpoint." While ISU argued that its decision was not politically motivated, the court found that evidence proved the contrary. Due to the existence of a limited public forum, the court would also not grant ISU the defense of engaging in government speech. The court concluded by noting that since NORML ISU was only promoting reform to marijuana laws, and not illegal use, they did not violate ISU's trademark policies. The court therefore decided that NORML ISU was entitled to injunctive relief.

Marijuana legalization has been gaining momentum in the US. Last month Maine Governor Paul LePage signed a marijuana moratorium bill [JURIST report] into law, just three days before recreational marijuana becomes legal in Maine. In December Massachusetts's governor also signed a bill delaying [JURIST Report] portions of the state's marijuana legalization initiative. In addition to Maine and Massachusetts, California and Nevada also voted [JURIST report] in November to legalize marijuana. In April Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed a bill [JURIST report] legalizing medical marijuana. Last February the Utah Senate voted to advance a bill [JURIST report] that would legalize the use of medical marijuana in various forms such as vapor or edible form. In 2015 New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed two bills [JURIST report] in order to expedite the distribution of medical marijuana to citizens with critical health conditions. Earlier that year New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed [JURIST report] a bill into law that would allow for the administering of edible medical marijuana to sick and disabled children on school grounds without triggering the arrests of parents or educators.

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