This week, University of Arizona professor and leading medical marijuana researcher Dr. Sue Sisley was fired from her position at the university. The University of Arizona refused to renew Dr. Sisley’s contract after advocates engaged in a contentious political struggle with state lawmakers to secure funding for her clinical study on the beneficial effects of marijuana on veterans with PTSD. Dr. Sisley cites her medical marijuana advocacy and research as the reason for her abrupt dismissal. The university’s action will significantly delay — or even end — her groundbreaking research, which had finally received almost all of the necessary federal approvals.
Sisley charges she was fired after her research – and her personal political crusading – created unwanted attention for the university from legislative Republicans who control its purse strings.
“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.”
In March, the National Institute on Drug Abuse moved to approve Sisley’s research. The decision came as a surprise because some researchers have long accused the institute of hostility to proposals aimed at examining the possible health benefits of marijuana.
Sisley’s study was designed to involve veterans who would use marijuana in an observation facility on campus. She had lobbied state lawmakers for approval to use state funds collected at medical marijuana dispensaries to help pay for the work. When a powerful Republican senator maneuvered to block that money, some of Sisley’s allies launched an unsuccessful recall effort.
Dr. Sisley has long been at the forefront of medical marijuana science, often traveling to testify in legislative hearings to support compassionate bills and derail the misinformation that is so often repeated by opponents of reform. MPP wishes her luck in appealing this decision and continuing her valuable research.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has started taking control of the medical research for marijuana and is focusing more on marijuana use patterns rather than its potential benefits, Businessweek reports. NIDA currently serves as the gatekeeper for marijuana’s medical research. NIDA also provides oversight for the farms that grow the plants that can be used in clinical trials. However, advocates say that NIDA’s control over which plants can be used effectively makes it impossible to test the benefits of marijuana on ailments such as cancer-related nausea or epilepsy. Many believe that the supply should not be controlled entirely by one organization.
MPP’s director of federal policies, Dan Riffle, weighed in on this issue. He claimed that the federal researchers aren’t “set up to study potential medical benefits, so it’s inappropriate for NIDA to have a monopoly on supply.” MPP and other marijuana advocates are pushing for the DEA to grant additional growing permits so that marijuana can be researched in conjunction with other diseases. This is partly because of organizations, like the Epilepsy Foundation, that want end restrictions on research for marijuana’s effect on alleviating seizures. With NIDA controlling the supply, there is not enough marijuana to test all of its medical benefits.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seems to have changed her mind when it comes to marijuana policy, according to National Journal. Clinton had previously expressed that she did not want marijuana decriminalized, but thought research ought to be done into its benefits. On Tuesday, she appeared to be more acquiescent to a change in the law. Clinton called for more research to be done, without doubting the medical benefits. Hillary stopped short of making an endorsement, saying, “I think we need to be very clear about the benefits of marijuana use for medicinal purposes. I don’t think we’ve done enough research yet.”
When she came to the issue of whether it should be legal for adults to use, Clinton said that states like Colorado and Washington have already reformed and that they are “laboratories of democracy.” Clinton claims to be holding out on forming her opinion until she has the evidence from the two states. Her change of heart mirrors that of the Democratic Party, which, as of late, has become more amenable to the case for making marijuana legal for adults to use, medically or otherwise.
Colorado is preparing to begin the largest state-funded study on the benefits of medical marijuana, The Denver Post reports. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed a bill that will distribute about $9 Million in grants to researchers. These studies will be unique because clinical trials on the kinds of marijuana products that Colorado citizens consume will be among the research conducted. The purpose of these studies is to research the effects of marijuana on the people in a setting where they can consume it legally.
Colorado is following suit in its research after California became the first state to fund medical marijuana research more than 12 years ago, and studies there have yielded results about the analgesic effects of certain doses. Dr. Larry Wolk is the executive director and chief medical officer of Colorado’s health department. While emphasizing that Colorado would mainly fund research on approved medical conditions, Wolk also stated that the state would look into funding other kinds of studies as well. Wolk hopes to begin accepting applications later this year, with funding starting in early 2015.
This is especially good news in light of a report released this week showing that the federal government has consistently stymied research into the potential benefits of marijuana.
A University of Minnesota research group, led by chief researcher Kalpna Gupta, has found that the cannabinoids in marijuana can help treat pain caused by sickle cell disease, reports Minnesota Daily. The group has been running tests on mice and it has yielded good outcomes from those tests. The study says the next step is to move onto human trials; however, it is running into issues with Minnesota’s laws.
In order to take this next step, the research will be moved to California, where medical marijuana became legal almost 20 years ago. Minnesota, on the other hand, has a stricter medical marijuana law that will take effect next summer. This research may actually affect the Minnesota law, however, by providing evidence that could help add sickle cell disease to the qualifying health conditions for the program.
The conditions currently approved by Minnesota law include cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, and seizures. The Department of Health in Minnesota is presently creating a task force to investigate the therapeutic effects of marijuana. Dr. Gupta’s research is being funded by the National Institute of Health’s grant, and is intended to test the effects of vaporized marijuana on 35 sickle cell disease patients at the beginning of July. Minnesota’s medical marijuana laws are some of the strictest in the nation, but the research Dr. Gupta is doing may be able to help more patients find relief.