Sue Sisley, Cannabis Researcher, Loses Medical Society Position Over New Times Quotes
Sue Sisley has been fired again.
An apparent victim of hardball politics, the Valley doctor and would-be cannabis researcher was told by the University of Arizona in June to vacate her office at the school's downtown Phoenix campus.
Now Sisley's been booted off the Maricopa County Medical Society's board of officers due to published quotes in September's Phoenix New Times feature article about her saga, "Weeded Out: How the U of A Fired Pot Researcher Sue Sisley After a State Senator Complained."
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University of Arizona officials never said much about why they canceled Sisley's contract to perform various duties. Sisley was also stripped her of an academic title that would have allowed her to move ahead with a planned study of how marijuana affects veterans with PTSD.
As the September article covers, what officials did say about Sisley's claims of political retaliation didn't jibe with the facts. It appears that the UofA bowed to pressure applied by powerful State Senator Andy Biggs, who didn't like Sisley's connection to a recall drive against one of his pals, State Senator Kimberly Yee.
A few weeks after the article was published, New Times received a letter from Jay Conyers, the executive director/CEO of the Maricopa County Medical Society, about quotes in the article from Sisley concerning the group's former CEO, Sara Presler.
"Dr. Sisley is not authorized to speak on behalf of the Maricopa County Medical Society. Any comments or opinions expressed by her regarding the Maricopa County Medical Society represent solely her personal opinion.
"If possible, please print a retraction, or correction, of that portion of your story."
We told him that, in looking at the offending passage, it could be argued that Sisley was talking about her personal opinion and views. In any case, we didn't take any action on his request.
A little background: During one of the interviews with Sisley for our article, she had described her impressions of how Yee ended up angry at a bill this year that would have tapped into the state's medical-marijuana fund for Sisley's planned research. It all started when the state passed a law in 2012 (perhaps illegally) that banned medical marijuana from college campuses. The following year, universities and the county Medical Society lobbied to amend that law to allow an exemption for research purposes
Yee told New Times she was promised during that time that if she supported the bill, no one would later come back asking for state money to fund such research. But in March, a bill appeared before Yee, chair of the senate education committee, that asked for precisely that. Yee wouldn't even let her fellow senators vote on it, sparking a backlash that evolved into a brief recall movement by ticked-off veterans. (The bill, by the way, was sponsored by State Representative Ethan Orr, who's nearly tied with Democratic opponent Randy Friese for votes following Tuesday's election and doesn't yet know if he'll get to keep his job as lawmaker.)
Here's what the article said:
"It wasn't me who promised her," Sisley says, blaming it on U of A liaison Tim Bee (a former Republican state Senate president) and former Flagstaff Mayor Sara Presler, then-head of the county medical society. "[The society] made a huge mistake in hiring [Presler] as our executive director . . . She made all kinds of unauthorized statements."
Presler, as the article noted, would only tell New Times in response to an inquiry about Sisley's statements that she quit her job at the society on November 1, 2013.
Sisley was serving at the time of the article as the society's secretary, one of the board's officer positions. But just after nine in the morning on October 22, Sisley received an email from Society President Miriam Anand "regarding the disparaging statements" in New Times about Presler.
"As an officer of the Society, your statements have shown a failure of duty to care to the Society and a neglect of your fiduciary responsibility to the Society," Anand wrote, according to the email that Sisley shared with us. "Per Arizona State Law (ARS 10-3843), an officer may be removed by the Board of Directors at any time with or without cause."
If she didn't hand in a resignation letter, the board would be forced to remove her from her position, Anand told Sisley.
Anand wrote Sisley another email later that night, following an emergency meeting of the society's board: "There was a clear consensus that you had breached your fiduciary duty to the Society by making the statement regarding Ms. Presler while serving on the Board of the Maricopa County Medical Society. The board voted to remove you from the position of secretary."
Asked to comment on the situation, Sisley pointed out in an email that she never said she'd been representing the society in her comments, and claims that "Presler threatened to sue" the society over the comments, forcing the board to fire her.
"I'm grateful that I found the location to do the research," she wrote. "I can finally focus on what I've always wanted to do which is objectively study this plant. Andy Weil basically told me recently to stop wasting my time with these shortsighted Neanderthals in organized medicine. He was right."
Sisley has not yet disclosed where the research will take place, though she's had recent talks with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
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