Nearly two years after medical marijuana researcher Sue Sisley was fired from the UA, she returned for a special lecture on medical weed in front of a room of more than 50 people at the off-campus entity, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute—an educational program for older adults.
The crowd was filled with questions about Sisley's research and the current UA administration's decisions to back away from a study that seeks to find answers on the soothing impact of marijuana on post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.
Recently, Sisley gave a similar chat at a retirement community, where she talked to hundreds of senior citizens about medicinal cannabis.
"The opportunity to talk to seniors is so valuable because, when it comes to the cannabis movement, they are the ones who can benefit the most from the therapeutic benefits. They want to understand why there isn't more research, more data to gather," she says
Coming back, Sisley feels triumphant.
Here she was at her former employer, after her contract was terminated, she claims, over political pressure from the conservative state Legislature against the UA administration. The move, which the university has denied, was due to Sisley's advocacy for weed research, temporarily halted her study. But as of today, she's accomplished even more with her work than what she could have with the UA by her side, Sisley says. Turns out the storm of publicity that came after really helped.
Sisley has found a location in north Phoenix to house her study, and will receive a schedule 1 license from the Drug Enforcement Administration in the next month, she says. When that happens, Sisley will finally be able to purchase marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and begin the trials with at least 50 veterans.
Other landmarks since being let go from the UA include the more than $2 million grant Sisley's study received from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, as well as some golden partnerships with the University of Colorado in Denver, the University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins University.
"[The three state universities] all turned their back on this work, that was a huge insult to the veteran community, who felt this was such essential research," she says. "We have a great comeback story, even after being tossed out. We are proving that this work can be done despite the short-sided decisions of the administration here. This is the critical question that needs to be answered through research."
But Sisley says she has no hard feelings against the UA and sees herself there in the future.
"I don't have resentment toward them," she says. "I am a Wildcat for life. I have tons of respect for the people who work in the trenches. I am deeply disappointed in the negligent decision of the people at the high levels of administration. Ultimately, we were better off. I envision us coming back here, even just collaborating on some research. Once [UA President Ann Weaver Hart] leaves, there will be a new era of progressive thinking where people realize the UA should be a sanctuary for this kind of work."