PLAISTOW — An Atkinson couple charged in October with cultivating, possessing, and intending to distribute marijuana pleaded not guilty in Plaistow District Court
Monday, where their defense attorney argued the growing operation was never meant as a business, but as a means of relief for a man battling cancer. Robert and Valerie Zdrada, aged 65 and 60 respectively, were arrested Oct. 19 shortly before 9 a.m. after police seized more than 7 pounds of marijuana, along with seeds, plant stems and cultivation tools from their Crown Hill Road home.
The couple was given a hand summons to return to court in December and released.
"I think as more is known, the direction of this case is going to dramatically change," Cronheim told Judge Sharon N. DeVries. "We're anxious to get to the facts of the case but recognize today is not the day."
The prosecution told DeVries the couple is facing one charge each of intent to distribute because of the amount of marijuana found. When the statute allowing medical marijuana use in New Hampshire, passed in 2013, goes into effect, each patient and caregiver together may only posses 2 ounces at any given time. Even the distribution centers, once opened, will be allowed only a 5-pound back-stock and an additional 6 ounces per patient.
The prosecution also noted that medical marijuana identification cards allow for possession only, while the Zdradas were illegally manufacturing their own cannabis.
Cronheim disputed the distribution charge, noting that police found no records, measures, scales or weapons — "nothing consistent with distribution." He added that Robert is "awaiting the state to finally implement the law passed three years ago" allowing for medical marijuana use.
"This is a case about a man with cancer who is trying to survive," Cronheim said. The state is not distributing identification cards until the dispensaries open, Cronheim said, currently slated for the end of March.
Last month, an Alstead woman, Linda Horan, won her case in Merrimack Superior Court after she petitioned the state to issue her a license in New Hampshire so she could obtain medical cannabis in Maine. The court's ruling, however, ordered a license be issued for Horan only
The Zdradas were again released on $5,000 personal recognizance bail, with the condition that they continue living in their Crown Hill Road home and that Robert Zdrada follow his doctors' treatment recommendations.
"Obviously, it's not in my interest to see that you're following what your doctors said or not," DeVries told Zdrada. "I'm just saying if they recommended you use medical marijuana that you follow that as part of your bail order, so that protects you in that regard."
Following the arraignment, Cronheim reiterated that "This is a medical case, not a criminal case.
"It's my hope that they (the prosecutors) will understand the medical circumstances and a make a decision appropriate to those facts."