MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A self-styled Rastafarian church in Madison that police raided after it dispensed marijuana that leaders described as a sacrament has reopened, but without the cannabis.
Jesse Schworck, 39, and Dylan Paul Bangert, 23, opened the Lion of Judah House of Rastafari in March. The Dane County Narcotics Task Force raided the establishment in late May.
The Madison natives were subsequently charged with maintaining a drug-trafficking place and possession with intent to distribute marijuana. Bangert is also faced with one count of delivery of marijuana, and Schworck with three distribution counts. A criminal complaint states Schworck is also faced with charges of misdemeanor battery and disorderly conduct emanating from an alleged dispute with a customer who he said took marijuana sacrament from the church without payment.
County Circuit Judge Jill Karofsky ruled on Monday that Schworck and Bangert could return to the church, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
Both men say that police and the city are encroaching on their right to practice their religion.
Karofsky dismissed the bail condition barring Schworck from being at the church, but said other conditions remain in place prohibiting Schworck from committing any new crimes or using or possessing any controlled substances, including marijuana.
Schworck’s case will be scheduled for trial. He officially entered not guilty pleas and is scheduled to appear in court nexzt on Aug. 9, when Karofsky will hear a motion for return of property seized by police, including a large sum of cash.
Bangert’s case is scheduled for a status conference on Thursday.
Madison police officials could not be reached for comment. The city is aware of the court ruling and is weighing its next steps, said the Madison attorney Michael May.
In June, the owner of the building filed eviction proceedings against Schworck and Bangert. Court records show the eviction case is postponed until November as the defendants await the pending resolution of a federal lawsuit they have filed against the city of Madison, the Police Department and numerous other entities and individuals.
“We took our lumps but we’re still above water,” Schworck said Wednesday at the building, where church members gathered and helped with cleanup work. “Right now, we’re just chilling and letting everyone know we’re OK. We’re still fighting the good fight.”
The pair and supporters remain optimistic that they’ll succeed in court and ultimately be able to resume previous activities.
“Our plan all along was to stay here,” Schworck said.