A church in Wisconsin known as the Lion of Judah House of Rastafari is on the spotlight for openly using marijuana as a sacrament.
City officials of Madison, where the church is based, are reportedly cracking down on the church, but the people behind the House of Rastafari are defending their right to practice their religion.
The church, co-founded by Jesse Schworck and Dylan Bangert, has already grown to include about 6,000 new members since it started accepting donations and distributing marijuana to parishioners in March, according to a report from CBS Boston.
The Weed-Using House Of Rastafari
Cannabis is still illegal in Wisconsin, but the House of Rastafari appears to have found a loophole by using it as a religious sacrament.
In a report from WISC in early April, Schworck pointed out that both the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act allows the members of the church to use marijuana as part of their spiritual practice. The Rastafarian religion, he added, uses cannabis to achieve the good and weed out the bad.
"This is a non-profit church," explained Schworck. "We all use cannabis to meditate and also for the religious purpose for uplifting our mind and our body and our spirit."
The co-founder of the House of Rastafari describes the church as open, encouraging people to come as they are. It's common practice for the parishioners to talk, have fellowship together, and break bread, according to Schworck.
Membership is open to everyone who signs up online or in person, provided they fill out a membership card that assures the founders of their sincerity of being part of the church.
Within a month or so, the House of Rastafari is expecting to complete the church and fully stock it with marijuana-infused tea, edibles, and other products for their practice.
Officials Not Happy With The Church
While the church founders insist their use of cannabis is grounded on spiritual reasons, a number of city officials are not convinced.
"I have not seen any documentation or anything that supports they are, in fact, a church," said assistant city attorney Jennifer Zilavy. "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."
She added that the founders are simply fronting the church to sell cannabis products.
However, Schworck says that the city can't prove any of the allegations, adding that their church isn't selling weed nor distributing it to non-members.
He also provided WISC with a number of documents, including one from the state of Wisconsin endorsing him as a nonprofit church. Another document is from the IRS, exempting the church from tax as a religious entity.
Madison police recently showed up at the church in response to a noise complaint, confiscating marijuana from the establishment. While there were no charges or arrests, a cease-and-desist letter was delivered.
Schworck is planning to file a federal injunction to stop what he describes as harassment and intimidation.