By Francisco Alvarado
MIAMI (Reuters) - A Miami jury began deliberating the fate of a man who faces up to 35 years in prison for setting up a marijuana growing operation in a bedroom of his house, in what he says was an act of love to help his wife who is recovering from breast cancer.
Ricardo Varona, 43, was arrested in July 2014 and charged with marijuana trafficking after police said they seized 15 live marijuana plants that could have produced more than 30 pounds of usable weed.
In closing arguments on Friday Varona's lawyer, Jose Aguirre, told jurors in Miami state court that detectives did not find any money ledgers, drug scales or packaging equipment at Varona's house that would show he was selling pot for money.
"They want you to believe he is Pablo Escobar and Walter White," Aguirre said, referring to the deceased Colombian cocaine baron and the drug dealing protagonist of the TV series "Breaking Bad." "All he was trying to do was give his wife the medicine she needs."
Prosecutors also failed to prove the actual weight of the plants, Aguirre added.
Prosecutors said the lab had lights to mimic the sun, air filters to mask the pungent odor, and fans to cool the operation, local media reported. The size of it was far more than could ever be consumed by one person, they argued, estimating the plants' value at $90,000.
"He was helping out his wife and he was helping out his wallet," said prosecutor David Emas.
Florida last year legalized a low-potency strain of medical marijuana to treat severe epilepsy though it has yet to select approved state growers. A petition is being organized to widen medical marijuana usage in the state.
Aguirre said his client faced a maximum of 35 years in prison if found guilty.
More than 20 states have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana in recent years, while a handful of others such as Colorado also allow recreational use of the drug.
Maria Varona told jurors during the trial she has to make the costly trip to Colorado to get marijuana edibles and pills.
Although her cancer is in remission, she continues to require cannabis edibles due to the prevalence of the disease in her family, she told the court.
The prosecutor accused Varona's wife of lying on the stand. "She is covering up for her husband," he said. "Who can blame her?"
(Additional reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Editing by David Adams and Diane Craft)