CSU reverses its decision to allow political fliers that depict a marijuana leaf. Exactly why is it in dispute?
Backers of a pot-legalization measure were blocked from distributing fliers that depicted a marijuana leaf on campus before the ACLU got involved.
“How many lawyers does it take to be able to exercise your free speech?” asked Seth Anthony, chair of the CSU Libertarian Party.
The CSULP and the CSU chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy wanted to distribute fliers advocating Amendment 44, which would legalize small amounts of marijuana for those 21 and older.
The problem: CSU officials believed the flier could have gone beyond political speech and violated university policies.
“It could have been viewed as promoting marijuana,” said Dell Rae Moellenberg, a university spokeswoman, adding that the university has a code prohibiting material that advocates the use of drugs.
But to Anthony, the flier does no such thing.
“For it to be promoting marijuana, it would have to be encouraging use,” he said. “There’s nothing on this flier that encourages use of marijuana.”
The flier included information about the harmful effects of alcohol and the relative benignity of pot. In addition, the largest text on the flier read “Yes on 44” and behind that was the image of a marijuana leaf.
The flier was shown to Housing and Dining Services on Monday. Moellenberg also added that, to her knowledge, there was a “misunderstanding somewhere along the lines.”
Anthony met with Mary Ellen Sinnwell, the director of Residence Life, about the flier on Monday. According to Moellenberg, the director told Anthony to make a couple changes to the flier to make it look more like “campaign material.”
She added that those changes were made, and therefore the fliers were approved for posting on Wednesday.
Anthony, however, has a different version of the story.
He calls the university explanation a flat-out “lie” and said no changes were made to the flier.
“(Sinnwell) denied it on Monday and approved it on Wednesday,” he said. “If we didn’t have the backing of other groups, I really doubt they would have changed their minds.”
Mason Tvert, campaign director for the pro-legalization group SAFER, also unequivocally said that no changes were made to the flier.
“This is the same flier that we’ve been dealing with all week,” Tvert said.
Sinnwell said that there were changes made to the flier – “in the layout and design” – but couldn’t articulate precisely what changes were made.
Taylor Pendergrass, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Colorado, said that since the university has decided to allow the fliers, he now considers the flap resolved.
The lawyer saw the flier and said it fell under the realm of political speech.
“This kind of speech is the purest form of political speech,” he said. “We’re always concerned about any restriction on free speech, but we’re especially concerned about speech that has to do with a state ballot. That goes to the heart of the First Amendment.”
Tvert chimed in with his belief about why the university reversed its decision: “We caused a stink.”
News managing editor Vimal Patel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.