MUSCATINE, Iowa — Last year, the Iowa Legislature passed the Iowa Medical Cannabinoid Act, allowing the use of cannabis oil to treat children with epilepsy in the state of Iowa.
For Shelly Van Winkle and other supporters of medical cannabis use, the law was a first step. During a presentation on medical cannabis at Musser Public Library on Thursday evening, Van Winkle argued that the law needs to be improved to make it more easily available and for more illnesses.
"We want to follow the laws, but we want laws that represent us," she said. "We have a law that does not work."
About 20 people attended the informational gathering. Van Winkle, 44, Muscatine, has been a registered nurse since 2003 and is a member of the American Cannabis Nurses Association. During the presentation, she recounted her experiences as a nurse in a variety of positions, including critical care and pediatrics, after serving in the Army during the Gulf War. However, health problems, including chronic fatigue syndrome, prevented her from day-to-day work in that field. She is now a case management nurse and consultant.
"To see that stripped away was painful," her husband, Jim Van Winkle, said.
Eventually, Van Winkle used cannabis in cookie form to help manage her symptoms when the conventional medications her doctors prescribed proved ineffective.
"I don't want to take 29 pills a day. I want to be a mom," said Van Winkle, who has seven children.
Supporters of changes to the law note the current law does not allow cannabis oil to be produced or bought in Iowa and it is classified in Iowa code as a Class I drug — a substance with no medical value.
"Should Iowans have to break the law to get medicine?" Van Winkle asked.
She cited studies indicating cannabis' value in treating chronic pain, Parkinson's Disease, other neurological disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among others.
Van Winkle said she plans to continue to lobby the Iowa Legislature and state officials for action on the issue and urged her audience to do the same.
"I'm begging people to get involved," she said.