Medical marijuana has been legal in Arizona since 2010, and last year state legislators passed a law permitting cannabis research at state universities if approval for a study had been obtained. Yet, Dr. Sue Sisley, a researcher who had gained federal permission to study medical marijuana — currently, the only researcher in the nation to have done so — was terminated from her positions at the University of Arizona in June, just three months after she had won approval for her study of marijuana use among veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Sisley, who had been with the University for eight years, told USA Today she believes her dismissal was "political retaliation" for her cannabis-related research.
Sisley described how the university's vice president called her in April to question her "political activity." Employees of University of Arizona, according to that institution’s policy, are allowed to participate in politics, but they cannot allow their activity to affect their objectivity and they also are not permitted to use the university name when supporting or opposing a political issue. Sisley had been supporting a new medical marijuana research bill, which had been unanimously approved by Arizona’s House of Representatives but had, so far, been blocked in the Senate; the bill would allow the state to collect fees from the medical marijuana industry to fund biomedical research. In an April email response, Sisley told university administrators she had conducted her advocacy work outside of work hours and had never used university resources to participate in her activism.
Sisley told CNN her job evaluations and performance have been excellent, stating, "Job performance is not the issue here. It's about the university being fearful of the word 'marijuana' and not wanting their brand aligned with this research." Sisley’s termination becomes effective on Sept. 26, suggesting her research will be postponed by — at the very least — one and a half years until she is appointed at another university and passes its review process. Meanwhile, it had taken her four years to gain federal government approval of her study. Sisley held down three part-time jobs at the University of Arizona: assistant director at the Arizona Telemedicine Program, a special projects coordinator at the medical school, and a non-tenured clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry. The university informed Sisley her three contracts would not be renewed, according to the notices sent to her on June 27, and this was a "final" decision not subject to further review. (The university does not comment on personnel issues, according to a spokesperson.)
During a legislative session, State Senator Kimberly Yee blocked a hearing of House Bill 2333, which would permit medical marijuana cardholder fees to fund not only Sisley’s study of medical marijuana and PTSD but also other marijuana research. Yee told Fox News she believes such funds would be better spent warning children of the potential ills of drug use.
A lifelong conservative, Sisley had disapproved whenever the veterans she worked with for 15 years told her of using pot, instead of the FDA-approved medicines Zoloft and Paxil, to ease their PTSD symptoms. “Veterans were having the courage to tell me they were using this plant to successfully treat the whole constellation of symptoms,” Sisley told the Daily Beast. “After 10 years, I couldn’t ignore it.”