ACLU Nebraska announced it is suing the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles on behalf of a man who was denied a personalized license plate that would have read “NE 420”. In some circles, the number 420 means marijuana – usually pro marijuana.
The man is identifed as Frank Shoemaker, an attorney who has advocated the legalization of marijuana from Holbrook, Nebraska. He claims his First Amendment rights were violated when the DMV refused him the plate.
In a statement through ACLU Nebraska, Shoemaker said, “Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized some form of marijuana use. This is a conversation happening around the country, so how can Nebraska say it’s illegal to even talk about it here?”
When applying for a personalized plate, the DMV says it will have to approve the message before the plate is issued. It also asks the vehicle owner to provide a meaning that they wish to convey with the message.
ACLU Nebraska says the DMV’s policy that plates will be rejected if they express, connote or imply objectionable, obscene or offensive words or phrases oversteps the government’s authority.
Frank Shoemaker had planned to put the license plate on his white Volkswagon van which already includes a number of pro-marijuana messages.
He's leading a petition drive to put the legalization of marijuana on the Nebraska ballot November 2012.
We asked what Nebraskans thought of the lawsuit.
"I think a judge should throw out this lawsuit. It's a frivolous lawsuit," said Henry Wich of Blair.
"I agree with the state," said Sue Long of Omaha. "If it stands for marijuana then you shouldn't put it on a plate then people think you're a drug dealer."
Chris Stephens of Omaha didn't see the problem. "It's a free speech kind of deal."
Other states have similar policies that personalized license plates must be approved before they are allowed. In the 1990’s, for example, an Iowa man was issued the plate 3MTA3. The state recalled the plate after it was realized it had a message, which some considered offensive, when seen in a rear-view mirror.