Arizona U Researcher Claims Marijuana Project Led to Firing

Dr. Suzanne Sisley has been fired from her research post at the University of Arizona for what she believes to be political reasons tied to her research about the benefits of medical marijuana.

According to Angela Gonzales for The Phoenix Business Journal, Sisley recently received approval from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to begin researching the effects of medical marijuana on patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved the study long ago, but due to federal rules, the marijuana could only come from a government-run farm in Mississippi.

According to Evan Halper for The Los Angeles Times, the federal government for marijuana research has approved only one research center -  a UC-San Diego facility run by Igor Grant.  Grant noted that this is due to his having the complete backing of the state.  His team studied the effects of the drug on cancer patients and those with HIV/AIDS.

“Every one of those studies showed, in the short term, a beneficial effect,” Grant said. “There is very good evidence cannabis is helpful.”

Sisley received a letter from Joe Garcia, interim dean of the College of Medicine, stating her position would not be renewed as of September 26 this year.  She was not given a reason.

“In accordance with those policies, my decision is final and is not subject to further administrative review,” he wrote.

She believes she was fired because her research was bringing unwanted negative attention onto the college from the Republicans who control funding.

“This is a clear political retaliation for the advocacy and education I have been providing the public and lawmakers,” Sisley said. “I pulled all my evaluations and this is not about my job performance.”

Her research may still have a chance at continuing if she can find employment at another university.  However, she will have start over in her efforts to persuade the new university’s research board to approve her project – a process that took months at the University of Arizona.

Organizations who are in support of Sisley’s research are currently looking for ways around the university’s actions.

“What happened here is the repression of science for political purposes,” said Rick Doblin, president of the Multidisciplinary Psychedelic Studies Association. “It is astonishing in this day and age.”

University officials have not made a statement on the issue.

A 2010 law allows patients with certain conditions and a doctor’s note to receive up to 2-1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.  PTSD is not one of the approved conditions.  Sisley had hoped to gain the research needed to add it to the list, writes Howard Fischer for The Arizona Daily Star.

“I am committed to implementing this veterans’ research,” she said. “That’s all I’ve ever cared about for the past five years. It’s consumed me. Twenty-two veterans a day in this country are killing themselves. I don’t know if marijuana will help, but that’s what I keep hearing from these vets. They are using this plant successfully to manage their post traumatic stress disorder symptoms.”

Marijuana is classified as a “schedule 1” drug, thought by the federal government to be more dangerous than cocaine.  The drug is said to have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” and causes “severe psychological or physical dependence” in its users.

There are currently 1 million Americans legally using marijuana to treat various disorders.