Pennsylvania State Nurses Association today became the first medical professional group to register support for legislation that would allow the use of medical marijuana.

The group, representing more than 212,000 registered nurses in Pennsylvania, said Thursday that it is backing passage of the bill (SB 1182), which protects those patients who want to use medicinal marijuana, and health care professionals who recommend it, from criminal prosecution.

"We have been hearing a lot from our patients and their families about it, especially from those with seizure disorders where traditions medical treatments are not effective," said the association's CEO Betsy Snook, who also is a registered nurse.

She said the group's endorsement is a reflection of nurses heeding their "code of ethics to bring about social change and bring about symptom relief for patients."

The bill, known as "The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act," will be the subject of a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Law and Justice Committee. Snook said the association is contemplating testifying at the hearing.

Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery), who co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Mike Folmer (R., Lebanon), said while several doctors have independently supported the bill, he is grateful to the nurses as a group for "standing up for sick patients."

"As we all know, nurses are the ones who have the most frequent and direct contact with patients," said Leach. "They understand better than anyone the tragedy of disease, and the miracle of medicine. It is not surprising that they would stand up boldly for the right of every patient to have access to whatever will make them better."

Leach and Folmer's bill would allow patients who have a recommendation from their doctor to purchase and use medical cannabis from licensed Care Centers. The entire process – from the growth of plants to the administration of the medicine to the patient – would be regulated and overseen by the Departments of Health and Agriculture.

Currently 21 states and the District of Columbia have similar laws allowing the use of medical marijuana.

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