Church claiming to be a ‘cannabis sanctuary’ faces shutdown

A newly established Rastafarian church has drawn the ire from Madison, Wisconsin officials concerned over their use of cannabis as a holy sacrament.

The Lion of Judha, House of Rastafari church was given a cease-and-desist letter from the Madison attorney’s office to stop their practice of marijuana use, CBS News reports.

“They are claiming to be a church,” Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Zilavy said to Channel 3000. “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.”

The church’s founders, Jesse Schworck and Dylan Paul Bangert, contend that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects them from legal action and allows for marijuana use as a religious practice. They claim that nearly 6,000 people have already signed up to become church members since opening their doors less than a month ago.

The church’s membership card reads: “I do exercise my liberty, religion, and conscience, sincerely and legitimately, without a guilty mind, with kaneh-bosm (cannabis) as my sacrament.”

“This is a non-profit church,” Schworck told a CBS Wisconsin affiliate. “We all use cannabis to meditate and also for the religious purpose for uplifting our mind and our body and our spirit.”

No arrests were made and no charges filed, although police notified the church’s landlord to stop the activity. The city attorney’s office said it could file a public nuisance action in circuit court and eventually request an order to have them shut down if the landlord takes no action.

“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 added.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2006, the Supreme Court ruled that a religious group can use an illegal drug in their worship services.

Oscar Pascual is the editor of Smell the Truth, syndicated on GreenState and SFGATE. Smell The Truth is one of the internet’s most popular destinations for cannabis-related news and culture. This blog is not written or edited by Hearst. The authors are solely responsible for the content.