The University of Missouri and a student group are squabbling over marijuana.
Not over the drug itself, but on whether a marijuana leaf can appear on a T-shirt next to the school’s name.
University officials have said no. However, leaders for the campus chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws say it’s about First Amendment rights and fairness.
“The University of Missouri does not want to seem as if they are endorsing our viewpoint,” said Benton Berigan, president of MU NORML. “We just want the rights that are afforded to other university organizations.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has written the university twice, saying the school is violating the First Amendment. In its most recent letter, the Washington-based foundation asked the university for a “substantive” reply by June 3 but has not yet received one.
MU spokesman Christian Basi said officials were reviewing the foundation’s letter.
“The university values free expression,” Basi said. “These are issues we want to take a look at very thoroughly and I don’t want to put a timeline on it.”
Last year, MU NORML wanted to raise money selling specially designed shirts with a marijuana leaf in the shape of an animal paw next to a depiction of the campus skyline, another leaf of cannabis and the group’s name.
Because the group also wanted to use the University of Missouri’s name, Berigan asked permission. He said his request was rejected. According to the school’s licensing guideline, the university’s name won’t be approved for use in “connection with promotion of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs or in connection with pornography or other forms of expression limited by law.”
Berigan said NORML doesn’t advocate the use of marijuana but aims to reform laws through political engagement and community education.
“I see it as an immediate threat to student intellectual freedom and First Amendment rights,” said Berigan. “This isn’t an issue that is going away.”
Both sides have reviewed a similar situation at Iowa State University. The campus chapter of NORML there sued in 2014 after the university withdrew approval for a marijuana-themed shirt featuring the school’s mascot.
In January, a federal judge granted the chapter an injunction, blocking the university from using a trademark to prevent the group from printing the shirts. The university has appealed.