Two Major Victories For Student Rights In Federal Courts

Dan Viets speaking at a NORML conference
Dan Viets speaking at a NORML conference

Federal courts have recently rejected the actions of university and college administrators who sought to inflict suspicionless drug tests on students at a public college and to restrict the First Amendment rights of marijuana law reformers at a public university.  Both decisions have important national implications.

Linn Tech Student Drug Testing Case

In 2011, Linn State Technical College administrators declared that they intended to drug test every student who applied for admission to the small, state-funded college located in Osage County, Missouri, a short distance east of Jefferson City.  No other public college or university in America had pursued such a program.  It seemed clear to those who follow such matters that college and university students have the same rights as other adults to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.  While private institutions are not bound by the restraints of the Fourth Amendment, public tax-supported institutions are.  Nonetheless, Linn Tech seemed determined to pursue inflicting random, suspicionless drug testing on their students.

Tony Rothert, the Legal Director of the ACLU of Missouri, filed suit against Linn Tech.  I filed a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, working with Alex Kreit, a law professor from San Diego.

U.S. District Court Judge Nanette Laughrey, sitting in Jefferson City, subsequently issued a decision prohibiting such testing, with a few narrowly-drawn exceptions for those participating in training programs involving heavy machinery or high-voltage electricity.

Linn Tech appealed that decision to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.  Legal scholars were shocked when a three-judge panel of that Court later sided with Linn Tech.  In a decision which many believed ignored legal precedent and logic, two of three judges on the panel which initially heard the case sided with Linn Tech.

Mr. Rothert then filed for a rehearing of the case by the full 11-judge Court.  Such hearings are rarely granted, but in this case, the Motion was granted.  Following that rehearing, all but two of the judges on the full Court sided with the students and the ACLU, overturning the decision of the three-judge panel.

Still not satisfied, Linn Tech squandered more public tax money pursuing a Petition for Certiorari with the United States Supreme Court.  Civil libertarians were concerned that the current high Court might indeed overturn the Eighth Circuit if it had accepted that Petition for review.  However, on June 5, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court denied further review in this matter.  Therefore, the decision of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court is now the final decision in this matter.  Linn Tech administrators have reluctantly acknowledged that they must now follow the Constitution and abandon their effort to impose suspicionless drug testing on their students.

Iowa State University NORML Censorship Case

In another important case closely watched by many across the nation, members of the NORML Chapter at Iowa State University in 2012 applied for approval to print t-shirts which contained the name of the university-recognized organization and included an image of the school’s mascot, “Cy, the Cyclone”.  University administrators first approved those t-shirts, but when the ISU NORML Chapter asked to reprint them, the university caved in to pressure from legislative staff people who had complained that it appeared the university was supporting marijuana legalization.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) filed suit on behalf of the officers of the Iowa State University NORML Chapter, alleging content and viewpoint discrimination.  The lawsuit sought to prevent university administrators from treating the NORML Chapter differently from other university-recognized student organizations.  The federal district court in Iowa sided with the students and against the university.  The university appealed to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, which issued a decision in February of this year upholding the federal district judge’s ruling.

Iowa State University administrators then asked the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court to reconsider its decision.  The Court did so, which caused many to fear that they might change their minds.

However, on June 13, 2017, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court reaffirmed its earlier decision and went even further, holding that university administrators who prevented the ISU NORML Chapter from using the university’s trademarked images were individually liable for their actions and could, therefore, be ordered to pay damages from their own pockets!

Administrators at the University of Missouri in Columbia have taken similar actions in regard to the MU NORML Chapter.  It is hoped that the decision of the Eighth U.S. Circuit will encourage MU administrators to reconsider their position.

The federal appellate court sent a loud and clear message to university administrators that they are required to respect the Constitutional rights of students, including those who advocate for reform of the marijuana laws.

While Iowa State could do as Linn Tech administrators did and continue to squander more public tax money pursuing an ill-considered position, it is not at all likely the U.S. Supreme Court would grant further review in this matter.

Administrators at the University of Missouri in Columbia have taken similar actions in regard to the MU NORML Chapter.  It is hoped that the decision of the Eighth U.S. Circuit will encourage MU administrators to reconsider their position.

These two decisions have reaffirmed the rights of college and university students to be free from random, suspicionless drug testing and to speak out for drug law reform without censorship by administrators..


6 thoughts

  1. I still don’t get how employers are allowed to perform “suspicionless” acts of “unreasonable search and seizure” on private citizens. Don’t get it no way now how never have never will :-p

    1. Private businesses can discriminate against any unprotected group.

      Drug users are an unprotected group.


      Companies may also have to prove at various times that their employees, in the case of fire, accident, or injury, were not under the influence, in order to avoid liability, whether or not “stoned-ness,” would/could have had had anything to do with it.

      Until “drug user” become a protected group or class, even if drugs were to be re-legalized, private businesses ill be able to discriminate at hiring time and randomly.

      1. @ Eric,
        Yes, private businesses CAN discriminate against unprotected groups like cannabis consumers; but what is also important to recognize is that, in general, private businesses WILL ALWAYS PREFER TO DISCRIMINATE, unless they are forced not to do so, by laws which they vigorously resist.

        This tells you much about the nature and character of corporate America. The very fact that we need a list of specific protected groups in the first place demonstrates a severe case of “a failure to grasp the concept!”

        Faith in the integrity and honor of these institutions is a misplaced Faith, indeed.

  2. Great news! Wonderfully written update, thank you Mr. Viets.
    Are the courts our last branch of liberty?

    As slow as it is taking for the rotten-orange-in-chief to appoint Federal Judges one would think we have a chance at holding upa resistance to the police state drug war building up under Trump-Sessions.

    Then again, it was an Obama-appointed Federal Judge Mueller of the Eastern District of California who ruled that “Congress doesnt have to be right” in a Constitutional case a few years back where the CSAct was brought into question after several medical marijuana growers were prosecuted then sentenced.

    But anything is better than what this trainwreck-administration can appoint off of some right wing social media vetting process. (Hell, I could use a bowl of Trainwreck just thinking about it)…

    Curiously, only one judge on the 8th circuit for the Iowa NORML free speech case was appointed by Obama. The rest were all appointed by George W Bush, one by Reagan, with two vacancies. Of course, who wouldnt want to go back to the weapons-of-Bush-destruction days compared to what were dealing with now?

    Sigh… I guess we still have to rely on that old Congressional scorecard to get marijuana reform in the US.

    Sure hope Jon Ossof wins today in Georgia, but the Dems do turn losing into an art form… Read the score, vet your candidates and get out and vote people!

  3. Sad that the administrators at Iowa State couldn’t uphold their integrity and probably drained a lot of money just to be told to do the right thing. Random testing at high schools should also be banned. Quit treating people like criminals.

    1. @ Anon,
      Yes, I agree. It’s one thing when the alcohol industry or the pharmaceutical industry spouts shit in opposition to legalization — we know it’s all about the money for these predatory entities…

      …But it’s another matter when an institution of higher learning promotes the reefer-madness lies, and even worse, practices censorship. This is like a doctor violating the Hippocratic Oath. For shame!

Leave a Reply