A panel of seven medical marijuana experts was divided in Ashland Monday night over whether President Barack Obama will overturn the federal law that makes possessing or using the drug illegal.

A panel of seven medical marijuana experts was divided Monday night in Ashland over whether President Barack Obama will overturn the federal law that makes possessing or using the drug illegal.

Although several states, including Oregon, have medical marijuana acts, the federal government can arrest or fine patients who are using the drug under state-mandated guidelines.

Not all of the panel members weighed in on the subject — except to say that medical marijuana use should be allowed under federal law — but Southern Oregon University professor William Hughes did say he was optimistic that Obama would amend the federal law.

"It's going to start with medical marijuana," Hughes said at the free gathering, which drew a standing-room-only crowd to SOU's Meese Auditorium. "It's going to start with defensible cases that are going to appeal to people on more than just the fact of, 'You guys just want to have a good time.'"

However, Ed Rosenthal, a prominent medical marijuana author and activist, said he didn't think Obama would change the federal law prohibiting marijuana usage or possession, even for medical reasons.

"Obama isn't going to do this for us. He's a politician," he said. "Just because somebody likes pot doesn't mean they're going to change this."

Rosenthal said Obama selected "hardliners" for his cabinet positions, especially in the Justice Department.

But Hughes made the argument that because Obama's mother died of cancer relatively young — at age 52 — and since she was supposedly taking morphine at the end to ease her pain, the president likely understands that marijuana can have many of the same palliative effects as morphine, without some of the side-effects.

In an interview last March with the Medford Mail-Tribune, then-Senator Obama said he supported the use of medical marijuana and that he would not interfere in state medical marijuana laws if elected president.

"As for medical marijuana ... I'm not familiar with all the details of the initiative that was passed, but I think the basic concept of using medical marijuana for the same purposes and with the same controls as other drugs prescribed by doctors, I think that's entirely appropriate," he said.

"I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue," Obama said.

Voter Power, an Oregon medical marijuana activist group, and Students for Truth, an SOU club, sponsored the meeting. In addition to being informational, the gathering was designed to bring attention to an initiative Voter Power is trying to get on the 2010 state ballot that would allow medical marijuana dispensaries in Oregon.

The panel also included Don Coon, the owner of a medical marijuana farm; Debby Goldsberry, the founder of Berkeley Patients Group, a medical marijuana dispensary; Claudia Little, a retired nurse practitioner who helped organize Americans for Safe Access in San Diego; Angel Raich, who was involved in a medical marijuana-related Supreme Court case, Gonzales v. Raich; and John Sajo, who serves on Oregon's Advisory Committee on Medical Marijuana and is the executive director of Voter Power.

Staff writer Hannah Guzik can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.