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Wisconsin Rastafarian Church Founder Charged with Multiple Felonies After Raid

Rastafarian Church Founder Charged With Felonies After Raid
Photo Taylor Kent for Cannabis Now


Wisconsin Rastafarian Church Founder Charged with Multiple Felonies After Raid

The case brings up decades-old questions about whether or not the free exercise of religion can legally protect cannabis use.

While change is coming fast when it comes to recreational and medical marijuana, a raid last week in Madison, Wisconsin showed that those who use the herb as a sacrament still have some waiting to do.

On May 29, the Dane County Narcotics Task Force served a search warrant at Lion Of Judah, House Of Rastafari, Inc., following a drug investigation. At the time, officials arrested two young Madison men, church co-founders Jesse R. Schworck and Dylan P. Bangert. The pair founded the church in April. According to Shepherd Express, the church has amassed more than 20,000 members in that short amount of time.

Schworck and Bangert have now been arrested twice since the church opened and Schworck was released for the second time on Sunday. At the church’s most recent encounter with law enforcement, he was arrested for three counts of delivery of marijuana and maintaining a drug dwelling.

“I’m enjoying my life tonight,” Schwork told supporters in a video posted to Facebook via the church’s page. “I’ve been in jail the last couple nights again on a false arrest. They had to release me because there was insufficient probable evidence.” He also noted he was hoping Banger would also be released soon. Schwork said the liability is building for law enforcement.

The Case Against the Wisconsin Rastafarians reported from the courtroom that Schwork and Bangert had attempted to argue that they should receive a religious exemption that would allow them to use marijuana while out of jail. Their lawyer was not able to point to a provision in any laws that would have allowed for it, apart from his clients’ interpretation of the constitution, which was seemingly already on trial.

“The state has offered signature bonds in these two cases and I think that’s reasonable,” said court commissioner Jason Hanson. “It’s not an unreasonable request that in exchange for that the defendants be ordered to actually comply with Wisconsin law.”

He also agreed with a request from prosecutors that bans Schworck and Bangert from entering the premises where the church is located.

Despite Schwork’s hopes for Bangert having the situation resolved, WMTV reported Tuesday afternoon that court documents show Bangert had been charged with felonies for manufacturing and delivering THC, possessing with intent to distribute and maintaining a drug trafficking place. Penalties in Wisconsin for the sale of marijuana vary from 3.5 years for less than 200 grams to 15 years if you have more than 22 pounds.

Religious Grounds for Cannabis Consumption

In 2016, the Oklevueha Native American Church of Hawaii lost its legal battle against the Department of Justice, when the Supreme Court chose not to hear an appeal to protect their use of cannabis as sacramental.

Going further back, Rastafarians have been questioning their rights under the constitution since 1981, when nine members of the Jamaica-based Ethiopian Zion Coptic got convicted by of operating a massive marijuana smuggling operation under the cloak of religion.

UPI reported on the events at the time from the courtroom. The government seized 95 tons of pot from the group of Rastafarians on which they built their case. The government was able to prove to a jury they used at least 70 boats and a ton of vehicles to get the pot to church properties in Miami Beach and Dunnellon, Florida and Deer Isle, Maine.

The Miami New Times noted in their complete history of Florida weed that in a 1979 CBS Evening News report, Dan Rather said a lot of people thought the Coptics were “a fraud, a group of rich dope heads who have been allowed to laugh at the law and get away with it.”

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