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The personnel is the political: UA marijuana researcher fired, claims political motivation

medical-marijuana-620After years of planning, Dr. Sue Sisley felt surer than ever that her University of Arizona study into marijuana’s treatment potential for post-traumatic stress would actually happen.

She obtained special permissions from various levels of government, secured a tentative research location and met last week with donors who she said were enthusiastic about funding the study.

Then last Friday, the university fired Sisley, and she believes Arizona lawmakers are behind her termination.

Sisley advocated on behalf of her marijuana research, meeting with politicians, attending rallies with military veterans supportive of her research and publicly criticizing those – including Republican legislators – who opposed her study.

Earlier this year, she pushed for legislation that would have allowed the Arizona Department of Health Services to allocate research money from the department’s growing medical marijuana patient processing fee fund surplus.

That money is intended to cover the Health Department’s medical marijuana program administration costs. The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act says that any surplus is to be used in furtherance of the program. The fund now has more than $9 million. Sisley’s proposed study would cost approximately $1.2 million.

Sisley said she made efforts not to mix her professional work at the university with her advocacy for the research. She said the administration may believe that she violated university rules with some of her activity, but said she was aware of the rules and made certain to abide by them. She defended her actions, saying that she could not convince UA administrators to lobby for the bill that would have helped fund her research.

In April, Sisley said she was asked by Joe “Skip” Garcia, the University of Arizona’s senior vice president for health sciences, to provide a detailed account of her political activity.

“(Skip) said he was calling on behalf of the (university) president’s office, and said that if I didn’t reply to his request, I wouldn’t have a job,” Sisley said.

Sisley said Garcia told her that Senate President Andy Biggs had questioned Sisley’s activism with members of UA administration and government relations team, which Sisley said she believed precipitated scrutiny and ultimately her firing.

Garcia was not in the office and could not be reached for comment.

Biggs denied Sisley’s story, but said he did speak with UA lobbyist Tim Bee about the bill that would have funded Sisley’s study from the medical marijuana fee fund.

“If asking a few questions about the bill and the university’s stance on it… I guess what she’s suggesting is that I urged her termination, which is flatly false,” Biggs said.

Biggs also introduced an amendment to a state budget bill earlier this year that would have explicitly prohibited general fund money from going toward any marijuana research.

“I don’t remember the genesis of (the amendment),” Biggs said. “But the idea was simply, you know, I don’t think we should fund that sort of thing. We have limited funds and better things to spend it on.”

Sisley’s study would not, however, have been funded from the state’s general fund.

Sisley said she wrote the letter for Garcia and assumed that would be the end of the inquiry. But as weeks went by, Sisley said several people close to the university’s administration told her that she had been targeted by lawmakers and university administration.

Sisley said her performance evaluations were always positive, so she felt her job was safe.

But in a letter delivered Friday, Sisley was told her medical and academic appointments with UA will not be renewed. A spokesman for the university said they do not comment on personnel issues.

A spokeswoman from The Arizona Board of Regents also said they also do not comment on personnel issues.

“This is how the universities get rid of their problems, I guess,” Sisley said, “They paint a picture of this loose cannon, off-the-rails troublemaker.”

Rep. Ethan Orr, R-Tucson, sponsored the bill that would have funded Sisley’s study. Orr said that whether a person supports or opposes marijuana use, research into the drug’s impact is necessary.

“This is something that, with the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act and possibly recreational use after 2016, we need as much research as possible,” Orr said. “Whether you’re for it or against it, you need to medically study the impact of the drug and impairment levels, or else you can’t enforce these laws.”

Orr said he is looking into what happened.

“If there is some kind of behind-the-scenes string pulling going on that curtails educational freedom, that’s just unacceptable,” Orr said. “I hope that’s not the case.”

Sisley said she is trying to determine if she can carry out her study at another Arizona university. If not, she said she will look to a state where the political environment is more welcoming of marijuana research.

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  1. Doug Banfelder

    Arizona excels at lowering the bar and nailing it.

    As Bob Robb noted awhile back, the Legislature should pass a legalization bill and it could then adjust the program as needed – good and responsible public policy. Instead, it will keep its collective head in the sand, then complain like hell when the voters pass it via initiative and place it off limits to legislative machination.

  2. BossIlluminati

    the greatest plant in the universe is almost free, LET FREEDOM RING! 13

    ENLIGHTENMENT…i was a brainwashed evil, mean, christian conservative until i tried it at 17 years old…i hated gays, immigrants, women’s rights, blacks, marijuana, i was Rush Limbaugh’s #1 fan….until i smoked marijuana, changed the world….hope the EVIL POPE is enjoying the marijuana revolution around the globe, keeping the flock brainwashed and against marijuana, gays, and women’s rights…you don’t deny ease from pain and suffering for billions of people unless you are PURE EVIL…

    1000s of my friends and family have grown 30-99 plants for 20 years, thanks for keeping prices high and NORCAL wealthy…#1 crop in cali = $15 Billion Untaxed…

    “any doctor against marijuana is a doctor of death” – cali secret 420

    from 0 states to half the country, from low 20% approval to almost 70%, cali runs this planet by 2 decades, time to tie marijuana to the 2014, 2016 elections, out with the old, in with the new

    20 years behind us southern states and NEW YORK, sad and scary….nobody denies freedoms like the south, nobody…the top ten incarcerators on the planet are southern states and more blacks are in prison then were slaves before the civil war…even if marijuana reforms did pass the republiCANTS in charge would deny you all your freedoms, centuries of practice…no matter though, we never planned on getting your backwards brethren from day one, half the country already but not one southern state, lol…not 1….the new generations are taking over in the south and they are nothing like their freedom denying parents, let’s ride…

    Deaths by Alcohol: Millions
    Deaths by Tobacco: Millions

    Deaths by Prescription Drugs: Quadrupled in last decade
Deaths by Guns: Millions
Deaths by the food we are fed: Millions
Deaths by Marijuana: 0, ever…they are killing my American family while denying freedom

    love and freedom forever


  3. BossIlluminati

    Senator Kimberly Yee runs Arizona and marijuana is her #1 target….she is headhunting all those for marijuana and even sent cops to my house in cali because of a letter i wrote her….the cops laughed at her cause they know weed will be legal everywhere soon….so sorry Arizona…i’ve been stirring the pot

  4. Why our politicians so afraid of the truth about marijuana? If marijuana is as dangerous as politicians tell us, it seems they would want the truth to prove their sides of the argument.

    Science is about truth, we need let scientists, not politicians tell us about the risks, and benefits of marijuana. All too often when marijuana is involved, it becomes about money, and not the truth.

    Jay Fleming
    Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
    Dolan Springs Arizona

  5. Burning books would give a clearer indication of what Kavanagh, Biggs, and Yee intend to accomplish. They are only for education when it comes to the destruction of our public schools and our universities. Arizona students already have the lowest per pupil expenditures in the entire nation. These legislators value knowledge and education only when it suits their greed. Their actions insure that high tech companies that want to encourage creativity and innovative design will look elsewhere for workers. They clearly do not want the voters to make an informed decision regarding cannabis in 2016. They favor the funding of private prisons and spend more of our money to jail our citizens than to educate them. They think that if they can silence highly educated individuals who are familiar with cannabis and its benign nature that people will listen to them. Kavanagh, Briggs, and Yee all wanted to see medicine kept from children and others who are now benefiting. While these bumbling idiots go after those who use medical marijuana they ignore the substances that actually kill people in Arizona. We now have more people who die of prescription drug overdoses here than die of traffic accidents. Organically grown cannabis is a natural herbal medicine that really does work and that has never killed by overdose in at least 10,000 years of human use. It clearly benefits the citizens of Arizona to know more about the use of cannabis with PTSD. Our veterans deserve no less! Kavanagh, Biggs, and Yee are evil, barbaric, and uncivilized jihadists that do far more harm than good to Arizona.

  6. Who is responsible for firing this fine defender of liberty ????? They will pay for this. Who is the republicans responsible ?? We will not stand or vote for this , she must be reinstated immediately.

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