In a country where major cities are plagued by organized crime and drug trafficking, it's no surprise that a liberalization movement has grown and has gained a steady foothold among urban youth and intellectuals. Just in the past year, two documentaries were released about drug policy, including Quebrando O Tabú, featuring former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and Paulo Coelho, and Cortina de Fumaça, which also includes FHC, Fernando Gabeira, and dozens of experts in Brazil and abroad.
More videos from Quebrando O Tabú
Cortina de Fumaça is currently showing at the Petrobras Brazil Film Festival in New York, which I was lucky enough to see early this week. If you can't make it to the next screening, you can watch here:
But here's the catch: in Brazil, it's illegal to publicly protest drug policy, since it's illegal to "apologize for" or defend crime and illegal substances. In the past, drug liberalization marches, known as Marchas da Maconha (Marijuana Marches) were broken up by police, and protesters arrested.
Most recently, there was a march in São Paulo in May, which was violently repressed by police after the event was forbidden by local courts. In fact, the same month, Marijuana Marches were prohibited by the courts in nine cities. To protest the repression of the São Paulo march, a week later, thousands of people (somewhere between 2,000 and 5,000) took to the streets of Brazil's largest city in what they called the Marcha da Liberdade, or the Freedom March.
The Freedom March inspired planning for new marches throughout Brazil, but there was some question as to how they would take place given past events. Some events, like the Rio de Janeiro march, were calling it the Marcha da Liberdade instead of the Marcha da Maconha, both to protest censorship and to attempt to ensure the event could take place. But today, the Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision that protesters will be able to hold Marijuana Marches, declaring that the protests were not defending drug trafficking. The justices defended the protesters' freedom of speech, explaining that it was their constitutional right to express their views.
Now, this weekend, marches are planned all over Brazil, including massive events in São Paulo and Rio, as well as events in more than 30 other cities.
This will be a very interesting movement to watch, because though it seems unlikely that major legislation will come anytime soon, it's an issue that is gaining momentum and has the support of some powerful and influential people, from TV stars to the ex-president. It's possible that this issue will become a more salient, national debate in the near future.