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Wisconsin Rastafarian church reopens without cannabis distribution

By Dean Mosiman/The Wisconsin State Journal (TNS) • Jul 21, 2019 at 8:00 AM

MADISON, Wis. — After a favorable court ruling, a self-styled Rastafarian church in downtown Madison, Wisconsin, has reopened, but without the prior open use of cannabis and acceptance of “donations” from church members in exchange for dispensations of marijuana “sacrament.”

On Wednesday, a hand-made sign saying “WE’RE BACK BABY!!!” stood outside the storefront Lion of Judah House of Rastafari.

Madison natives Jesse Schworck, 39, and Dylan Paul Bangert, 23, opened the church in March, but after an investigation authorities raided the establishment, arrested the leaders, and shut down operations on May 29. The back door is still boarded up from the raid, which was initiated by the Dane County Narcotics Task Force and involved more than 20 officers.

Schworck and Bangert were charged with maintaining a drug trafficking place and possession with intent to deliver marijuana. Bangert also faces one count of delivery of marijuana, while Schworck faces three delivery counts. Schworck also faces misdemeanor battery and disorderly conduct charges stemming from an alleged dispute with a customer who he said took marijuana “sacrament” from the church without paying, a criminal complaint states.

Both men contend that police and the city are infringing on their right to practice their religion.

On Monday, Dane County Circuit Judge Jill Karofsky ruled that Schworck could return to the church, which Schworck’s lawyer, Anthony Delyea, said offered an air-conditioned space for homeless people, along with food and clothing.

Karofsky removed the bail condition prohibiting Schworck from being in the same block as the church, but said other conditions remain in place barring Schworck from committing any new crimes or using or possessing any controlled substances, including marijuana.

“I’ll be lawful, that’s my intent,” Schworck told Karofsky.

Later Monday, co-defendant Dylan Bangert’s bail conditions were also changed to allow him to be in the 500 block of West Mifflin Street.

Schworck’s case is to be set for trial. He formally entered not-guilty pleas to charges and is next scheduled to appear in court Aug. 9, when Karofsky will hear a motion for return of property seized by police, including a large amount of cash. Bangert has not yet had a preliminary hearing.

Last month, the owner of the building, Charanjeet Kaur, filed eviction proceedings against Schworck and Bangert. The eviction case is delayed until November, court records indicate, pending the resolution of a federal lawsuit the pair has filed against the city of Madison, the Police Department and several other entities and individuals.

“We took our lumps but we’re still above water,” Schworck said Wednesday at the building, where church members were regathering and helping with cleanup. “Right now, we’re just chilling and letting everyone know we’re OK. We’re still fighting the good fight.”

The space is refurnished with a couch, chairs and table with a chess set atop it. The fix up includes repairing the back door broken during the raid, painting walls green, gold and red, restocking counter tops and shelves with Rastafarian literature, vintage clothing for sale, Rollerblades for rent, and establishing a food bank.

Absent were the once openly displayed glass jars filled with marijuana, paraphernalia and related items. Several people were hanging out and a few visitors came and left, but there were no offers or exchanges of cannabis Wednesday afternoon. Schworck said he isn’t checking if visitors might possess marijuana.

But Schworck stressed that he’s following his bail conditions. “It’s important to take it easy for the next couple of weeks,” he said.

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