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Wisconsin raids church accused of giving pot to members

A police officer walks in front of the Lion of Judah House of Rastafari church on Wednesday in Madison. The organizers of the self-styled church were arrested for distributing marijuana in return 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)

A police officer walks in front of the Lion of Judah House of Rastafari church on Wednesday in Madison. The organizers of the self-styled church were arrested for distributing marijuana in return 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) — Madison authorities on Wednesday raided a self-styled Rastafarian church that claimed marijuana was a sacrament it 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 the 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.

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 said the church numbers around 20,000 members.

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

Police had gone to the church previously, on March 26, and seized marijuana products, 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 the police officers who had taken their marijuana and the city’s demands had both 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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