UA marijuana researcher fired unexpectedly
Dr. Sue Sisley, a UA researcher who had designed an FDA-approved medical marijuana study, received notice of termination from the university on Friday.
She was informed that she had been stripped of 100 percent of her salary support and her position as assistant professor as of Sept. 26. Sisley said she was not given a specific reason for termination, and that she had received no formal complaints leading up to her termination.
The UA cannot discuss the reasoning behind Sisley’s termination due to Arizona Board of Regents’ policy, said Chris Sigurdson, senior associate vice president of University Relations.
Sisley has charged that political retaliation, not job performance, was behind her termination, which Sigurdson denied.
“The university has not received any political pressure to terminate any employees,” Sigurdson said.
Sigurdson cited the UA’s previous support for the passage of Senate Bill 1443 in 2013, which allowed medical marijuana research to be conducted on college campuses.
Sisley’s study was designed to see the effects of medical marijuana in treating veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. It received approval from the Food and Drug Administration in April 2011 and has had Institutional Review Board approval from the UA for a year. In March, the study also earned approval from the U.S. Public Health Service to move forward.
The main hindrance to the study after it had been approved by the proper authorities was the UA’s inability to find a proper facility in which to conduct the study, delaying her ability to get a Schedule 1 license from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Sisley said. Sisley said that the facilities suggested by the UA were grossly inadequate.
Rep. Ethan Orr (R-District 9) sponsored House Bill 2333, which would have given the Department of Health Services access to some of the $6 million in dispensary and medical marijuana user fees to fund medical marijuana research. The bill would not have allocated money to the study specifically, Sisley said.
The bill passed through the house with almost unanimous support.
However, Sen. Kimberly Yee (R-District 20) blocked a vote on HB 2333 by refusing to put it on her agenda. Individuals and veterans briefly filed a recall committee against Yee in objection, which Sisley said she was not associated with.
Sisley said that Senate President Andrew Biggs (R-District 12) tried to associate her with the recall. In April, Joe Garcia, senior vice president of health sciences, asked for a letter outlining Sisley’s political affiliations, Sisley said.
“All of my advocacy focuses on eliminating the barriers to marijuana research,” Sisley said.
Sisley is a UA alumna and said that it is painful for her to be cut off from affiliation with the school, especially while conducting work which attempts to help veterans.
“This was approved by the FDA,” Sisley said. “This isn’t something that a bunch of stoners generated in their living room.”
Sisley’s termination will likely have a negative effect on marijuana research at the UA, reinforcing to faculty that they cannot pursue controversial research without being fired, she said. Without her, it is unlikely that her study will be conducted, she said.
“I think it is negligent when lawmakers choose to attack marijuana research and claim that it is a strategy for marijuana legalization,” Sisley said.
—Ethan McSweeney contributed reporting to this article