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Officials Crack Down On Church Using Marijuana As Sacrament

MADISON, Wis. (CBS Local) -- Marijuana is still illegal in Wisconsin, but a church that recently opened its doors in Madison may have found a loophole.

Two men operating the Lion of Judha, House of Rastafari church have accepted donations to distribute marijuana to parishioners since March. They say about 6,000 people have signed up to become church members since then.

Jesse Schworck and Dylan Paul Bangert say openly using and distributing marijuana as a sacrament is a religious and inalienable right and is not breaking any laws.

"We all use cannabis to meditate and also for the religious purpose for uplifting our mind and our body and our spirit," Schworck told CBS affiliate WISC.

But city officials disagree and are trying to stop it.

"They are claiming to be a church," Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Zilavy said. "I have not seen any documentation or anything that supports they are, in fact, a church. Even if they are a church, marijuana is illegal in this state. You can't sell it. It can't just be 24/7 and you can smoke weed and that's our religion."

Police recently visited the establishment, claiming to be responding to a noise complaint, and confiscated several jars of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

No arrests were made, no charges filed, but the city attorney's office did deliver a cease-and-desist letter.

"They're just fronting the church so they can sell cannabis," Zilavy said.

Police also notified the landlord she must stop the activity. Should the landlord not take action, the city attorney's office said it could file a public nuisance action in circuit court and eventually could get an order to have them shut down.

Schworck said he is preparing to file for a federal injunction to stop what he calls harassment and intimidation by authorities.

"They don't really have a way to prove that I'm doing the things they don't want me to do. They're accusing me of selling, but we don't sell. They're accusing me of giving it to anyone. We only give it to members," Schworck said.

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