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Wisconsin raids church accused of giving pot to members

May 29, 2019
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A police officer walks in front of the Lion of Judah House of Rastafari church in Wednesday May 29, 2019, in Madison, Wis. Several suspects were arrested because the self-styled church was distributing marijuana to its members for donations. Madison police said the raid on the storefront church was initiated by the Dane County Narcotics Task Force. (Steve Apps/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin authorities raided a self-styled Rastafarian church in Madison on Wednesday that claimed marijuana was a sacrament they gave its members in exchange for donations, police said.

Madison police said the Dane County Narcotics Task Force raided the Lion of Judah House of Rastafari, which has been open since March. The church was started by Madison natives Jesse Schworck, 39, and Dylan Paul Bangert, 23. Both were arrested but it was unclear if they were facing any charges yet or if either had an attorney representing them.

The day before the raid, Schworck told the Capital Times the church gave marijuana and edibles laced with THC to members in exchange for a “donation.” Schworck says church membership is around 20,000.

Police did not say how much marijuana they took from the church.

Police had gone to the church previously and seized marijuana products on March 26, according to the Capital Times. The city also sent the church a cease and desist notice on April 12. Days later, Schworck and Bangert filed a lawsuit on their own against the city, claiming that police officers who took their marijuana and the city’s demands infringed on their religious rights.

“They know that they can’t come here,” Schworck said in the Tuesday interview with the newspaper. “That’s why they don’t come here.”

Schworck incorporated the church on April 14, 2018, according to Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions records.

Wisconsin is one of 16 states where marijuana remains illegal. Other states either have legalized the drug for recreational use or for medical purposes.

Police couldn’t say why the church was able to distribute marijuana openly for weeks.

“Unfortunately I cannot comment on what is certainly an unusual situation,” said Central District Police Capt. Jason Freedman in an email.

City Attorney Michael May said in an email it will be up to the district attorney whether to file charges. District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said police had yet to refer the case to him.

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Information from: The Capital Times, http://www.madison.com/tct

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