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Marijuana researcher being denied opportunity to lecture at Phoenix VA

PHOENIX — Phoenix Veterans Affairs officials are blocking an Arizona-based medical marijuana researcher from giving a lecture to health care providers at the facility.

Dr. Sue Sisley has requested permission on multiple occasions to give a so-called Grand Rounds Lecture at the Phoenix VA.

During the lecture, Sisley said she would have an opportunity to explain the details of her study of the effects of marijuana on veterans with PTSD to the facility’s medical staff.

“They have the golden opportunity to refer military veterans to a federally legal study,” Sisley said of why she wants to deliver the lecture.

When asked why Sisley has not been allowed a Grand Rounds Lecture, Phoenix VA Director Glen Grippen said, “She has already done that.”

Grippen was referring to a lecture Sisley gave in 2012 at the medical center when the study was in its infancy. Now the researcher has requested to give another in hopes that doctors will recommend qualifying patients to participate in the study.

“This is a study design that is getting underway this summer, and we need to screen hundreds and hundreds of military veterans in order to find that optimal 38 vets who will actually be enrolled in the study,” she said.

In a statement to KTAR News, the Phoenix VA explained it cannot allow Sisley to give the lecture due to federal law:

Since we are a federal agency, we follow federal law. Federal law classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act, and as such, VA health care providers are prohibited from completing forms or offering recommendations or opinions on participating in a medical marijuana program.

Sisley, however, has secured approval to conduct the study from the Food and Drug Administration, Drug Enforcement Administration and National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Phoenix VA officials also pointed out that when Sisley was originally allowed to conduct the Grand Rounds Lecture in 2012, it was under a different administration.

“We’re unable to offer insight into why that occurred, since those who approved it are no longer employees here,” VA spokesperson Jean Schaefer said in an email.

Dr. Carlos J. Carrera, the doctor who invited Sisley to give the Grand Rounds Lecture, is still employed but Schaefer clarified the previous director is not.

But the marijuana researcher said she believes Phoenix VA leaders could legally grant her approval if they wanted to.

“I think that it is really unconscionable that the VA is suppressing vital scientific information,” she said.

In response to Sisley being denied, Veterans for Civil Rights has sent a letter to Grippen asking him to change his mind.