Gov. Jan Brewer has cleared one hurdle for new research on the possible medical benefits of marijuana.
Without comment the governor on Tuesday signed legislation to permit possession of the drug on college and university campuses. The measure takes effect later this year.
The plan will most immediately help Sue Sisley, a University of Arizona physician who specializes in internal medicine and psychiatry. She had been pursuing research plans at the school until the Legislature, with Brewer's approval, put a kibosh on it.
But gubernatorial aide Matthew Benson said his boss never intended to interfere with legitimate research.
The issue stems from the 2010 voter-approved law allowing those with a doctor's recommendation and a state-issued ID card to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. While that law banned possession of the drug in public schools, there was no such restriction on the use of medical marijuana on college and university campuses.
Last year, at the behest of the Board of Regents, lawmakers approved the college ban.
Proponents pointed out that marijuana remains illegal under federal law. And they said the failure of campuses to have a drug-free policy endangered not only federal aid but also scholarships for students.
That brought a halt to Sisley's plans.
Sisley said she gained approval two years ago from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to conduct a study to determine whether marijuana, in various dosages and methods of administration, can help combat veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome.
She said her proposal had already been approved by the UA's Institutional Review Board, which must give the go-ahead for research on live subjects. The next step was to get approval from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to sell her the drugs for study.
The bill Brewer signed leaves intact the ban on marijuana on campuses. But it creates an exception for research approved by the FDA, the DEA or the National Institutes on Drug Abuse.
It also requires the approval of any "applicable university institutional review board.''
Sisley said the legislation and the governor's signature are a victory for academic research.
"It proves that science is not going to be trumped by politics,'' she said. And Sisley said it assures that the university system will remain "a sanctuary for research that might be considered controversial.''
Not everyone was swayed by the language. Several House Republicans voted against the measure, saying they fear the legislation could lead to "trivial'' research.
Legal issues aside, Sisley said she continues to try to get financing for her research. But state Health Director Will Humble has said he cannot legally use the money his agency gets in application fees for users and dispensaries for such a project.