Joint Research: Former UA professor Sisley ready to begin pot study

Dr. Sue Sisley works on her laptop in a conference room in Weed Depot in Scottsdale. After five years of efforts, Sisley is about to begin a study on the effects of marijuana in treating post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dr. Sue Sisley works on her laptop in a conference room in Weed Depot in Scottsdale. After five years of efforts, Sisley is about to begin a study on the effects of marijuana in treating post-traumatic stress disorder.

This story was published in the Daily Wildcat on Oct. 30, 2015

SCOTTSDALE — Dr. Sue Sisley was wearing red scrubs and a smile as she strode into the marijuana-emblazoned office of a company called Weed Depot in a north Scottsdale business park.

Sisley started seeing patients via video out of a conference room in this office that serves as a headquarters for a marijuana dispensary after the UA terminated her contract last summer, which set off a controversy that turned into a cause célèbre for pot activists.

For years, Sisley attempted to begin research on the effects of marijuana in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, only to be faced with setback after setback — the biggest of which being her dismissal from the UA College of Medicine.

The end may now be in sight, however. Sisley and fellow researchers said they expect to begin the three-year study in January or sometime in early 2016.

“Fortunately, after five years, we have persevered and we are now in a position to finally implement this study,” Sisley said.

The last thing that’s needed is final approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration so marijuana plants can be provided for the study, the researchers said. That approval can only be given once the renovations to Sisley’s research site in Phoenix are complete.

Dr. Sisley

Underneath the red scrubs, Sisley was wearing an Arizona Alumni shirt. She pulled out a UA hat, too, but she cautioned that she was not trying to appear “flippant” with the university.

She said there are plenty of good people doing good work at the UA. She’s a graduate of the UA College of Medicine, class of 1995, and worked at the College of Medicine–Phoenix campus.

Sisley’s interest in using marijuana to treat PTSD began because, she said, she has spent about 20 years treating veterans—at the Phoenix Veterans Administration hospital and her own private practice.

Working with these veterans, she noticed the debilitating effects of PTSD on their lives. She estimates that dozens of the veterans she treated over the years committed suicide.

Some veterans would tell her that they felt smoking marijuana helped when it came to coping with PTSD.

“I have people in my practice who are reporting that marijuana has saved their lives, and I’m as skeptical as anyone,” Sisley said. “I felt a duty to at least study the plant rather than just dismissing claims as erroneous or as coming from a bunch of drug-seeking stoners.”

So, working with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, she crafted a study to look at the effects of marijuana in treating PTSD about five years ago.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the study in 2011, followed by the UA’s Institutional Review Board, which is needed to conduct research at the university.

Funding the study was another matter.

Sisley lobbied the Arizona State Legislature in spring 2014 to use money from the state’s medical marijuana revenues to fund her study, an effort that ultimately failed.

In late June 2014, Sisley received notice that her contract with the UA had been terminated. She said the UA caved to political pressure from the Legislature and ousted her from her position the College of Medicine–Phoenix.

Sisley said state Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, and other legislators took issue with her lobbying style at the state Capitol. She cited an August 2014 report in the New York Times that quoted Biggs as saying that a UA lobbyist told him that there “will not be a problem going forward” after he complained about Sisley’s lobbying.

“This is a classic case of science being trumped by politics,” Sisley said.

The UA contests that version of the story.

Chris Sigurdson, vice president of communications at the UA, said in an email that the university did not reject Sisley’s research and offered to host it with another principal investigator—the lead researcher for a study.

MAPS, which sponsors Sisley’s research, declined the UA’s offer to do the study with another researcher at the helm, Sigurdson says.

“Had they agreed,” Sigurdson said, “we would be working on the study today.”

He also points out that the UA successfully lobbied the state Legislature in 2013 to allow medical marijuana to be studied on university campuses, laying the groundwork for the study to take place.

“The UA unreservedly supports academic freedom in research and instruction,” Sigurdson said. “Political pressure has not been a factor in our willingness to conduct medical marijuana research or influenced the assignment of any of our employees.”

After the UA

Whatever the reasons were for her termination, Sisley said she needed another site in Arizona that would host the research.

“Other people would have been devastated and walked away but there was no way I was going to turn my back on this study,” Sisley said.

Sisley said she reached out to Northern Arizona University and Arizona State University, but couldn’t work out a deal for research with either. She then turned to hospitals around Arizona to host the study with no luck.

As she searched for a new site that would allow her to conduct the research, Sisley’s fame grew among marijuana legalization activists. MAPS counted about 400 media reports about her in the months after her dismissal from the UA, she said.

Sisley joked that she should send UA administrators a gift basket because her termination brought widespread media attention to her research efforts. However, she said she never wanted to be a marijuana activist and that she was “forced” into becoming one because she encountered so many obstacles to trying to do research with marijuana.

She has spoken at events from a conference at Walter Reed Military Medical Center to a pro-marijuana rally in Seattle and has been interviewed on CNN.

Sisley maintains an official Facebook page for herself that has accrued more than 2,400 likes. The page’s cover photo imposes an image of Sisley against a backdrop featuring depictions of marijuana plants.

Howard Baer, founder and owner of Weed Depot, is one pot supporter who was drawn to Sisley’s cause.

He said he learned about the UA controversy and offered the office space in Scottsdale for the study. Sisley declined the offer, because she said she didn’t want to be associated with the marijuana industry.

He then offered Sisley space in a conference room in the office for Sisley to use personally for her telemedicine practice. She accepted that offer.

“She can have anything she wants from us,” Baer said.

Sisley said she had been trying to find a space to do the study in Arizona that was not associated with pot legalization advocates, but found it difficult without the backing of a university or a hospital. She said she didn’t want the optics of “being in bed” with the marijuana industry.

After months of difficulties in finding a place, Sisley finally relented. The study will be housed in a warehouse near the Deer Valley Airport in north Phoenix that is located next to a marijuana grow site, satisfying city zoning regulations, she says.

More construction is still needed inside the warehouse to clearly separate the marijuana grow from the study before final DEA approval, Sisley said.

Rick Doblin, founder and executive director of MAPS, said this is the culmination of a long-fought effort to begin a critical piece of marijuana research.

“It’s been like pushing a boulder up a hill,” he said. “It’s been extremely slow and problematic, but we’re getting there inch by inch, step by step.”

A ‘redesigned’ study

Marcel Bonn-Miller, an adjunct assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, heard about Sisley’s dismissal from the UA last summer and reached out to MAPS to offer his assistance on the research.

He brought in Dr. Ryan Vandrey, an associate professor in the Behavioral Psychology Research Unit at Johns Hopkins University, who has experience in research with marijuana.

After looking at the study, the two determined that they would need to redesign the study in order to maximize the “meaningful findings” that could be discovered with the research, said Bonn-Miller, who also works at the Philadelphia VA hospital.

“The only thing that stayed the same was that we were looking at different types of marijuana on PTSD symptoms,” Bonn-Miller said.

Bonn-Miller will be the coordinating principal investigator for the research, meaning he will be overseeing the entire study.

He said Sisley doesn’t have the experience Bonn-Miller and Vandrey have in marijuana research, because she has worked as a clinician, not a researcher.

This isn’t to discount the efforts Sisley had put into getting the research started, Bonn-Miller said. Sisley’s study as it was had been approved by the FDA and the UA’s institutional review board.

The study will take place at two locations—in Phoenix with Sisley and in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins with Vandrey. 38 patients will be seen at each site for a total of 76 subjects.

Patients, who have been screened and vetted for the study, will come into the sites to smoke different strains of cannabis, Vandrey said. The study will take three years to complete once it begins.

Bonn-Miller, as principal investigator, will write the findings when the research is complete.

Bonn-Miller and Vandrey emphasized they don’t have an agenda going into this study and added that they’re not interested in marijuana activism. Sisley said she wants to present the findings from the study whether it bodes well or not for marijuana legalization advocates.

“We’re trying to streamline these things and give a balanced view of what’s going on without the agenda,” Bonn-Miller said.

The redesigned study also received a $2.2 million grant from the Colorado Department of Health in December, securing the funding that eluded Sisley and MAPS before.

“It’s a good collaboration,” Bonn-Miller said about working with Sisley and MAPS. “I think their enthusiasm and stick-to-itiveness and coupled with our background has really helped push this forward relatively quickly.”

The trouble with pot research

The hurdles to this study aren’t unfamiliar territory for Doblin.

Doblin founded MAPS in 1986 originally to develop medicinal uses for MDMA and then marijuana. In 1992, Doblin worked with a researcher from the University of California, San Francisco, to try to study the effects of marijuana on AIDS patients, only for the research to be stonewalled by federal regulators for four years.

Vandrey said he’s encountered extremes on both sides of the debate on marijuana’s effectiveness—people who are totally for pot and people who are totally against it.

The state of marijuana in the U.S. now is much different than it was even five years ago when Sisley began her efforts.

Arizonans may see marijuana legalization on the ballot in 2016, where they could join Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon as states that allow marijuana for recreational use. Several other states have legalized medical marijuana and decriminalized its use.

This trend of state legalizing pot, however, does not necessarily indicate research on marijuana will be easier in the near future, Doblin said.

The problem is marijuana remains federally illegal and is classified a Schedule I substance by the FDA. Doblin said that momentum may prove to better legitimize marijuana’s medicinal purposes.

“That’s going to change the dynamics and will build even more support for research into marijuana’s medical uses,” he said, “because hopefully the resistance to it will be reduced.”

As for MAPS’s original goal of turning marijuana into a legal prescription drug in the U.S., Doblin estimated that may be about 10 years away.

“It’s still a long road,” he said.

Sisley said after the years of trying to get the research started and her activism for marijuana, her primary concern remains with helping the veterans she’s treated over the years.

“I feel the weight of these veterans on my shoulders every day,” she said.

For now, construction awaits completion at the Phoenix warehouse where patients will soon be coming to smoke marijuana for the study and Sisley and fellow researchers will begin compiling data.

The DEA requires secure storage for the cannabis that will be used in the study. For that Sisley, acquired a safe, one of the only things inside the warehouse now that’s not construction equipment.

That gray safe sits on the concrete floor, waiting for marijuana to be stored inside.

Board of Regents approves tuition hikes at state universities

This story appeared in the Daily Wildcat on May 5, 2015

PHOENIX — The Arizona Board of Regents approved tuition hikes on Monday at the state’s three public universities for the next academic year, following sharp cuts in state funding.

Mark Killian, chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents, sits as the board discusses a proposed lower tuition rate for "dreamers" on Monday. The regents also voted to approve tuition hikes at the UA, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University.

Mark Killian, chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents, sits as the board discusses a proposed lower tuition rate for “dreamers” on Monday. The regents also voted to approve tuition hikes at the UA, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University.

The regents approved the new tuition and fee structures for the UA, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University that were proposed by their presidents last month. This ends a month-long tuition-setting process that included public hearings and workshops with university leaders.

UA President Ann Weaver Hart said the UA worked closely with student leaders in the Associated Students of the University of Arizona and the Graduate and Professional Student Council in coming to the tuition rates it presented to the board of regents, which governs the three state universities.

Under the plan approved on a 6-1 vote, the tuition rates will rise at the UA for incoming in-state students by 4.07 percent, or $446, and incoming out-of-state students by 10.91 percent, or $3,209.

Students under the guaranteed tuition program, which the UA adopted last year, will not see their tuition bill rise for the 2015-2016 academic year. For current students who did not opt into the guaranteed tuition program, rates will increase 2.75 percent for in-state and 5.8 percent for out-of-state.

Graduate students will see tuition rates increase by 2.77 percent for in-state and 5.8 percent for out-of-state. Also, certain master’s programs will be under the guaranteed tuition program, which now only applies to undergraduate students.

The lone dissenting vote on the UA’s proposal came from Regent Bill Ridenour, who said the rates should have been higher for out-of-state and international students.

Hart said student leaders agreed that the new rates adopted for non-Arizona students represented a “fair distribution of the burden of the cuts from the Legislature.”

The state Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey approved a $99 million — or about 13 percent — cut in state funding to Arizona’s universities in March, amounting to $53.3 million from ASU, $28.4 million from the UA and $17.3 million from NAU. The state has cut nearly 50 percent of its funding to higher education since the Great Recession.

Regents chairman Mark Killian said the regents need to do more to show the Legislature the value of universities to the state, or they could find themselves in the same position again next year.

“The losers are the institutions and the students,” Killian said. “Even with these increases in fees and tuition, we’re still going to have to let people go. We’re going to have to cut back on a lot of things. We’re still running deficits in many areas.”

He later said he had spoken with attorneys, who are researching whether the board of regents can pursue a lawsuit against the Legislature for its cuts to state universities that may violate the portion of the Arizona Constitution that mandates public education must be as close to free as possible.

Killian said he believed a cap at $5,000 a year for in-state students would be a fair tuition rate and comply with the constitutional provision.

Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for Ducey, referred to an Associated Press report when asked about the governor’s position on the tuition hikes.

Ducey told the AP that he opposes the increases brought to regents Monday, but he did not attend the board meeting. Ducey is a member of the board by virtue of his position as governor.

Killian attempted to add an amendment to ASU’s proposal for a one-time fee of $320 for in-state students to cover state cuts that would lower it to $200. The board voted down the amendment 6-2 with only Killian and Ridenour in support.

Hart said last week at another board of regents meeting that she did not believe a temporary surcharge like ASU’s plan would be right for the UA because there is no reason to believe state funding would be restored any time soon.

She added that this round of state cuts and tuition increases demonstrates that UA students should opt into the guaranteed tuition program if they haven’t already.

“It will save them tuition dollars right off the top,” Hart said.

Tuition rates for Dreamers

The regents also appeared supportive of a proposed lower tuition rate for so-called Dreamers, including those under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

The proposal would enable those who came to the U.S. as children and graduated from an Arizona high school to opt to pay 150 percent of in-state tuition rates at state universities for the next academic year. This would amount to about a $17,100 tuition rate at the UA.

Students currently enrolled in state universities who would qualify under the standards set by regents could apply to get the new Dreamer tuition rate.

Regent LuAnn Leonard said this falls in line with the board’s mission to ensure access to education for Arizona students and has public support.

“I feel that this is the right thing to do at this moment,” Leonard said.

Currently, Dreamers have to pay out-of-state tuition rates to attend Arizona universities. Voters approved Proposition 300, a ballot measure in 2006 that prohibited the state from providing any assistance for tuition or in-state tuition to non-U.S. citizens or those who do not have a legal immigration status. Killian said he believed the proposed policy would be compliant under that law.

Ducey has not yet taken a position on the proposal, according to the AP.

When asked about her position on the proposal, Hart said she wants the board of regents to support all in-state students, including Dreamers.

“This is good for all of us,” Hart said. “I’m very interested in hearing the regents’ point of view on this particular proposal and see if they find that to meet their needs.”

The board of regents will formally take up a vote on the Dreamers tuition issue at its next meeting in June.

Regents hear proposals calling for Ariz. tuition hikes

This story appeared in the Daily Wildcat on April 28, 2015

TEMPE — Facing deep cuts from the state, Arizona university presidents formally presented their tuition proposals to the Arizona Board of Regents at a meeting Monday as it prepares to set rates for the next academic year.

The proposals, which call for increases in tuition and fees at the UA, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University, drew discussion and scrutiny from the regents at the meeting on ASU’s Tempe campus. The board will vote to set the rates for Arizona students on May 4.

UA President Ann Weaver Hart called these increases necessary and a “very serious response” to cuts in funding from the state.

“This is the reality that we face,” she said. “We are committed to doing the right thing on tuition and serving our students.”

The state Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey slashed $99 million in funding for higher education, which takes $53 million from ASU, $28.2 million from the UA and $17.2 million from NAU.

At the meeting, the regents continued their criticism of state leaders for the budget, which was signed by Ducey last month.

Board Chairman Mark Killian said he felt that “some in the Legislature are conducting a war on our public institutions.” He added that he is hearing rumors of further cuts to universities next year from the state.

“If that’s the case, we’re going to be right back here a year from now trying to figure out how to glue the place together and keep it going, and it’s not our fault,” Killian said. “It’s not the students’ fault. It’s a lack of recognition of what these institutions are doing.”

With these cuts, the total number of cuts to universities from the state since 2008 will total about $500 million, down from nearly $1.2 billion. The UA has nearly doubled its in-state tuition rate over the same period of time.

“I really resent being put in this position, because I felt the last couple of years we were making some progress,” Killian said.

The UA’s proposal calls for a 4.07 percent tuition increase for incoming in-state undergraduate students and a 10.9 percent hike for new out-of-state undergraduate students. For graduate students, the increases are 2.77 percent for in-state and 5.8 for out-of-state.

The guaranteed tuition program adopted last year ensures many current undergraduate students will not see their tuition increase. Under the proposal, current students who did not opt to the program will see smaller increases of 2.75 percent for in-state students and 5.8 percent for out-of-state students.

The UA’s proposal also includes an additional 19 program fees and 20 class fees for students.  This would bring the total to 96 program fees and 1,310 class fees for the university. The new program fees would generate an additional $2.9 million for the UA.

Mandatory fees would also be brought under the guaranteed tuition program, as well as some masters programs at the UA.

Hart said the proposal does not totally shift the burden on to students as she said the university will make cuts to its own budget.

“This is not simply a matter of adding revenue,” she said.

Student Regent Valerie Hanna said UA leadership did consider student leaders’ input throughout the months-long tuition-setting process.

The regents also debated the rising number of fees being charged to students at state universities. The number of program fees at the UA has nearly tripled since 2007, but the number of class fees has decreased by about 300 in the past five years.

Killian said the increasing fees at the UA, ASU and NAU, which coincided with decreases in state funding, show the blame lies at the feet of the Legislature. He suggested that, in an effort to highlight how much state cuts are costing students, the regents should roll all the fees into the price of tuition that everyone would pay.

Killian has recently called for the board of regents to sue the Legislature for violating the part of the Arizona constitution that states a college education should be as close to free as possible.

Regent Rick Myers defended the fees as a more transparent way for students to know that money is going to a specific purpose.

“There actually is a lot of accountability as well as visibility that comes with the way we’re putting fees in place,” he said. “Students this year were very supportive of the process the universities went through because they knew exactly how the money would be spent.”

ASU proposed a temporary $320 fee to cover the sharp cuts from the state for its in-state students. Some regents said they liked the idea of the surcharge, but Hart later said she didn’t believe that would be right for the UA.

Hart said, based on comments from Ducey at a meeting earlier this month, there is no reason to believe state funding for the universities will be restored any time soon.

New budget deal deepens cuts to Arizona universities

This story appeared on Arizona Sonora News on March 4, 2015 and in the Daily Wildcat on March 5, 2015.

PHOENIX — The Arizona Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey have agreed to a budget that would deepen cuts to state universities by nearly 50 percent in a move that prompted sharp criticism from university supporters.

The new proposal would cut $104 million from Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University, which is about $26 million more than Ducey proposed in his budget in January. The $104 million would represent about a 14 percent reduction in state support for universities.

The cuts are apportioned to each university based on enrollment size. In Ducey’s proposal for $77.5 million in cuts, universities were $40.3 million to ASU, $21 million to UA and $13.1 million to NAU. It’s unclear how much more will be cut to each university under the new proposal as specifics on the new budget deal were not immediately made available.

The new budget would also strip community colleges in Maricopa, Pima and Pinal Counties of all state funding. Ducey’s budget called for cutting funding for those three community college districts by half, or about $8.8 million.

Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for Ducey, confirmed in an email statement that Ducey and the Legislature had struck a deal on the budget.

“Governor Ducey has reached an agreement with legislative leadership that balances the budget, practices fiscal responsibility and sets clear priorities for the state,” Scarpinato said.

Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, wrote that from the details emerging about the budget deal now, it’s the “worst budget ever.”

Mark Killian, chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents, said with the deeper cuts to higher education, the Legislature is “trying to kill us off.” The Board of Regents governs the state universities and sets tuition rates.

Killian said the cuts likely stem from the Legislature having a “lack of understanding about the university system.” He noted that Arizona’s university system has been performing exceptionally well in areas of research and student retention over the past few years.

“It’s counterintuitive to cut university spending as deep as what they are proposing,” Killian said. “It’s going to have a significant impact on staff and the way we deliver education.”

The Regents issued a call to action in February urging for the state to not cut more than the $77.5 million Ducey initially proposed. Killian said the universities would have been able to take that much of a cut without raising tuition, but with the increased cuts proposed he said he isn’t sure whether the Regents can hold off further tuition increases.

Eileen Klein, president of the Board of Regents, took to Twitter to criticize the budget deal, calling it a “giant step backward for our state.”

“Sometimes leaders get so focused on the deal they lose sight of what’s in it. This one should be left on the table,” Klein wrote.

UA president Ann Weaver Hart said in a statement that while she recognizes the challenges state leaders are facing to balance the budget, she is very concerned with the talk of further cuts in the Legislature.

“I continue to believe that higher education is critical for a prosperous future for Arizona,” Hart said.

The state faces a project $520 million budget deficit and a more than $1 billion deficit next year.

Since the recession, Arizona has made more cuts its universities than other state in the country. Should the new cuts be approved, cuts to state support for universities since 2008 would top $500 million.

At the same time, tuition rates at state universities have increased by more than 70 percent, according to College Board.

Last year, UA raised tuition for in-state students by 2 percent and out-of-state students by 5 percent. ASU saw smaller hikes with a 3 percent increase for out-of-state students and no change to in-state tuition.

UA also adopted a guaranteed tuition model, which allows students to pay the same tuition rate over their four years at the university.

At a January meeting of the Regents, ASU President Michael Crow said he would not increase tuition for in-state students in the face of Ducey’s proposed $77.5 million in cuts. Crow could not be reached for comment on this latest budget deal.

Issac Ortega, president of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, said student leaders expected the cuts to universities to be deep. He said while the state is certainly facing deep fiscal troubles, students and universities shouldn’t be seen as “the first thing on the chopping block.”

“Half a billion dollars [in cuts] over the course of six or seven years is a pill that’s really tough for our students and our families to swallow,” Ortega said.

Ortega added that students would continue lobbying efforts to urge legislators to “invest in us,” referring to university students.

More details on the budget deal will emerge in the next few days.

Medical amnesty bill moves forward in State Senate

This story appeared on the Daily Wildcat on Feb. 20, 2015.

PHOENIX — A bill that would grant immunity from prosecution for underage drinkers who call for help cleared its first hurdle Thursday when a Senate panel voted to move the bill forward.

Dozens of college students with Arizona flag buttons that read “EMTs without MICs” packed a Senate hearing room to show support for SB 1190. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill by a 6-1 vote and it now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, said this measure would remove the fear underage drinkers have of a “mark on their record” that keeps them from calling 911 if someone needs medical help.

“We have had cases where people who are underage who are afraid of getting an underage drinking ticket left their friends in the emergency room with just a post-it note on them … and we’ve had dire consequences and death when that happens,” Ward said.

Critics argue that this removes discretion from law enforcement officers and prosecutors by providing a “blanket amnesty.”

SB 1190, which Ward calls the “Saving Lives, Saving Futures” bill, would give anyone under the age of 21 immunity from prosecution if they call for help from medical or law enforcement officials, stay at the scene and remain cooperative with officers. An amendment added by the Senate Judiciary Committee made clear that the immunity would apply to both the person who is calling for help and the person for whom help is requested.

This type of immunity for underage drinkers — known as Medical Amnesty, Lifeline Laws or Good Samaritan Laws — is on the books in 21 other states and the District of Columbia.

Devon Mills, who worked with Ward to craft the legislation, is a former Arizona State University student and testified before the committee that this bill would remove the “barrier of fear” that an underage drinker has when they consider calling for help for someone in need.

Mills and Ward worked on a similar bill last year that did not get a committee hearing.

Mills invoked the story of Jack Culolias, an ASU student who drowned in Tempe Town Lake after a night of drinking. He also cited a study from North Dakota State University that found students or minors in alcohol emergency situations call friends for help far more often than they call 911.

“The reason they didn’t reach out to people most equipped to deal with these situations was because they were afraid of the repercussions a citation for underage drinking could have with not only the law, but the university, their academic program … or their scholarship,” Mills said.

Mills also said this immunity could also be utilized in a sexual assault situation, where someone may fear reporting it because alcohol was involved.

Not everyone there was in support of the bill.

Jen Marson, executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties, came out in opposition to the bill because of concerns from county sheriffs and attorneys that this would take discretion away from them in those situations.

She said this bill would set “bad precedent” and suggested that the students campaign for underage drinkers to call for help regardless of what repercussions come.

“That kind of campaign could go a long way toward educating people about making sure that the people who need help have help, even if there is someone kind of consequence to you because that’s the way our role as adults in society works,” Marson said.

Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, the lone dissenting vote, said she isn’t sure immunity is the proper way to address the problem and has concerns that this bill would send the wrong message.

Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Cashion, said he hopes the bill could be further amended so there would still be a diversion program in lieu of a citation for underage drinkers who call for assistance.

“I know we don’t want to put this [on somebody’s record], but at the same time we also have to understand that there are individuals out there who are going to abuse the system,” Contreras said.

The amendment approved by the committee also added language to attempt to address concerns of abuse by proscribing immunity for someone who calls for help just as a way of getting out of trouble.