On May 12th, 2018, thousands of protesters gathered in front of the Parliament building in Tbilisi, the capital of the Republic of Georgia, beginning the day with a demonstration that closely mirrored standard form: angry youth, handmade posters, and a ceaseless commitment to a cause. The protest was a response to a raid on Tbilisi’s famous techno club, Bassiani — an underground hub for the bustling youth culture that challenges the norms of gender, fashion, and expression in the former Soviet nation.
Though the raid targeted drug use at the club, protesters flooded the streets of the capital in demonstration against the inhumane and severe punishments for recreational drugs such as marijuana. The crowd choose dance over violence: the night was celebrated as a movement for more legislative freedom in the developing nation, and demonstrators danced in the street to loud music to showcase their desire for a country where fair legislature and unbiased court procedure is not suppressed.
On July 30th, 2018, the Georgia’s Constitutional Court abolished “administrative punishment” for the consumption of marijuana, making it the first former Soviet nation to legalize the use of the drug. Though cultivation and sales remain a crime, the ruling does indicate a shift in the heavily Orthodox culture: supporters of the movement believe that the consumption of marijuana is not a social threat, and that the narco-politics of Georgia have heavily stalled its development due to the severe punishments received by violators of the now abolished law (with some users facing up to 14 years in prison). The policies that preceded the legalization were often used to justify police raids such as the aforementioned Bassiani raid and overt corruption within the countries police departments.
Voice of America reports that Zurab Japaridze, the leader of the libertarian Girchi party, stated that the legalization was a means of achieving freedom: “It is a liberal understanding of the idea of freedom, when a person is free in his/her actions, given it does not pose a risk to others. Nobody can send you to prison or fine you for smoking cannabis.” Though this may seem as a small moment of victory for supporters of recreational marijuana — especially when considering the thriving nightlife of Tbilisi — this is an indicator of a far more long term shift in Georgian democracy: not only were the voices of protesters listened to, but a libertarian party that has yet to achieve true political clout within a nation heavily reliant on familiarity (with the primary party, Georgian Dream, having much of the sway within the legislature) was able to push an agenda within the Constitutional Court.