By Mason Tvert
If you ever find yourself at the University of Georgia, be sure to stop by the campus bookstore and pick up some shot glasses, whiskey flasks or pint or martini glasses featuring the school’s official logo and Bulldog mascot. Just be sure you’re not wearing a T-shirt showing a bulldog using marijuana.
The Georgia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) at UGA was recently threatened with legal action and the possibility of losing their student organization status after they created and distributed T-shirts featuring a caricature of the UGA Bulldog mascot, Hairy Dawg, sitting in front of a campus landmark smoking a joint. The campus group created the shirts – which included the phrase, “Legalize, Equalize, Normalize.”
It wasn’t long before Georgia NORML’s president received word from a University official, instructing the group to stop distributing the shirts immediately. Otherwise, the official said, its student organization status could be in jeopardy. Just days later, however, the same official sent a second e-mail to the chapter president, notifying him that the group could continue distributing the shirts, but should “remember to have all future designs approved by the University.”
Before Georgia NORML could even digest this absurd “reminder,” they received yet another message from the University, this time from its Office of Legal Affairs, demanding they hand over any of the remaining T-shirts to the officials by the end of the day. The Collegiate Licensing Company also sent an official cease-and-desist letter to the students, informing them they had infringed on UGA’s trademarked property, and demanding that they respond in writing with a promise to never do so again.
Yet the NORML shirt design was hand-drawn by a student and did not include any of UGA's official images or logos. Moreover, the shirts clearly constitute political speech and satire – they convey a message that marijuana should be “legaliz[ed]” and treated “equal[ly]” to alcohol.
Surely UGA's lawyers are aware of the sound legal precedent that protects the freedom to such political speech, and clearly it is the marijuana-related content that the University finds troublesome. Yet the school allows its logos and Hairy Dawg images to be printed on shot glasses, flasks, and other alcohol-related paraphernalia. Why is it okay for UGA to use its logo and mascot to promote the use of a drug that contributes to countless overdose deaths, injuries, sexual assaults and date rapes, but not okay for Georgia NORML to depict Hairy Dawg making the safer choice to use marijuana instead?
Year after year, drinking by college students and the problems associated with it become more and more of an issue. Surely situations like the one at UGA are a contributing factor. Students are taught at a young age to believe marijuana is always bad and alcohol is acceptable. Then they go off to college where they are told they will be punished more severely for using marijuana than for drinking underage. And of course, they are bombarded with beer signs featuring the school logo and shot glasses plastered with the school’s mascot. The overall effect of all of this is a student population driven to drink when they party instead of making the rational, safer choice to use marijuana.
At this point – their rights to free political speech being trampled, their University acting hypocritically and sending a dangerous message regarding the two most popular drugs on campus – Georgia NORML decided to take action. They informed the University that the shirts had all been distributed and none were left to forfeit to the school. Then, with the help of Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), they held a press conference on campus at which they launched a “Stop the Hypocrisy” campaign. NORML members and other supportive students wore the T-shirts in question, displayed an assortment of UGA-sanctioned shot and pint glasses, and called on the school to stop sending a dangerous “alcohol-only policy” to students. SAFER also sent out a national alert to marijuana reform supporters nationwide, resulting in hundreds contacting the University’s administration and telling them to stop the hypocrisy.
Still, the University appears to be pressing forward in their crusade. And the students, along with the help of SAFER, appear poised to continue the fight on behalf of students’ rights to free speech, fair use and political satire. Not to mention Hairy Dawg’s safer choice.
If you'd like to tell UGA administrators to respect student's political speech regarding marijuana, click here.
Mason Tvert is the executive director of Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER). Find out more and contact SAFER at: www.saferchoice.org