The University of Arizona has caved to anti-pot political pressure and fired a prominent researcher who won rare federal approval to study the benefits of the drug.

University of ArizonaSuzanne Sisley, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry, was fired after her work drew national attention and created headaches for anti-weed forces. The state legislature, which controls the university’s purse string, is especially hostile to marijuana.

“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.”

School officials refused to explain why Sisley was fired, but claimed the move wasn’t political in nature. Still, the marijuana community exploded in anger over word of the decision.

Sisley says it was her advocacy for marijuana reform, and her political activities, that got her fired. The school says that isn’t true.

“The university has received no political pressure to terminate any employee,” said Chris Sigurdson, a spokesman for the school.

The university, Sigardson said, supports medical marijuana research. But with officials refusing to explain themselves, the general consensus in the marijuana community was that she was fired to appease drug warriors in the legislature.

Sisley got official word June 28 that she would be terminated effective Sept. 26. The dean of the medical school, who wrote the letter, offered no explanation except a claim that school bylaws allow officials to fire anyone, even contract employees, at any time for any reason.

“In accordance with those policies, my decision is final and is not subject to further administrative review,” wrote Stuart Flynn, medical school dean.

It’s hard to imagine a more obvious act of political firing. Sisley drew widespread attention for her research, which won a rare federal grant to study the benefits of marijuana.

The grant, from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, was a surprise when it was announced in March because NIDA almost always prevents pro-pot studies. That research is now in danger, a fact sure to make anti-drug zealots happy.

Marijuana ResearcherSisley’s work drew heat from several powerful anti-weed figures in Arizona, including a state senator who blocked funds to her project. When her supporters launched a drive to recall the senator, it provoked anger from university officials, despite the fact that she wasn’t involved.

“I didn’t even support the recall,” Sisley said. “I thought it was a waste of energy.”

She said she’s unlikely to land a similar position at another university. And even if she does, she would have to lobby officials there to allow the same research that infuriated her bosses at the University of Arizona.

“This is just going to delay everything for a year or two,” Sisley said. “It is just another awful delay for this study.”

About the Author: Matt Brooks

Matt is a journalist from San Francisco who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than six years.

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