Last year the UAE announced some pretty landmark reforms to
long-standing laws. These include the right for unmarried couples to conceive a
child outside of wedlock, as long as the child is “acknowledged and will be
cared for”. There were changes to cyberfraud laws, labour laws and an easing of
bounced cheques laws.
But perhaps some of the most remarkable updates were those
ushered in by Federal Decree Law no. 30 of 2021. This specifically relates to
legislation surrounding the use of “narcotics and psychotropic substances”.
Remarkable both in the changes to the guiding aspirations of
the policy — a focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment (for first time
offenders at least), and in the degree of penalties awarded.
What has changed with regard to cannabis and products
containing “THC or CBD”
Article 96 states that visitors and tourists who enter the
country for the first time with food or products which contain certain products
listed in the Schedules attached to the decree law such as THC, found in
cannabis, may not face legal action, although such products will be immediately
Now that is obviously a long way away from permitting the
use of these substances in the country, but it does represent a significant
change in posture towards visitors to the country being ignorant of the law.
What this particular article does not cover, is the use of cannabis or products
containing active compounds found within cannabis (THC or CBD oils for example)
inside the UAE — possession of these substances will still be treated as a
However, another provision of Federal Decree Law no.30 makes
big changes to the way first time offenders of drug use/possession crimes will
be dealt with…
What are the changes to the penalties for first time drug
offences in the UAE?
In relation to first time offences, the previous minimum
sentence of two years has been changed to three months for first time drug
offenders, and a fine between AED 20,000 and AED 100,000. And there’s a very
good reason for this progressive change in stance: The background principle has
shifted towards the treatment of drug-use as an illness rather than a criminal
act, with the new law giving the court the discretion to send offenders to
specialised rehabilitation facilities.
In fact the law actually calls for the setting up of these
rehabilitation centres, to support education, sobriety and prepare addicts for
reintroduction to society.
The rehabilitation approach is restricted to first time drug
offenders and upon submission of a medical assessment by the supervisory
medical committee within six months of conviction.
Will expat drug users still face mandatory deportation?
No, expatriates who are caught using drugs are usually
deported to their home countries after they are jailed, but Article 75 of the
new law gives judges the discretion to make such decisions.
What about repeat offenders?
For repeated offences within a period of 3 years, the prison
sentence is increased to a minimum of 6 months and a fine between AED 30,000
and AED 100,000. While the Court has the right to decide whether the first or
second offence should result in imprisonment or fines, a third offence results
in a minimum sentence of 2 years and a minimum of AED 200,000 in fines.
What about those convicted of selling or trafficking
The UAE has taken a stricter stance on drug promotion and
trafficking. The Abu Dhabi Federal Courts now have exclusive jurisdiction over
drug promotion cases, as well as drug trafficking cases, regardless of where
the crime occurs.
Under the updated laws, the fine against offenders for
inducing drug use and facilitating narcotics and psychotropics sales was
increased from the minimum of AED 20,000 to AED 50,000, with the prison
sentence of a minimum of 5 years still in place.
It gets more severe for these individuals if their actions
are deemed to have inflicted suffering on others. A penalty of a 7-year prison
sentence and a minimum fine of AED 100,000 is imposed in the event that the
offenders’ actions cause harm to the victim.
If the harm is considered serious and in severe cases, the
offender faces a minimum sentence of 10 years and at least a AED 200,000 fine.
In cases where an offender’s actions result in the death of another, the
offender faces a life sentence or even the death penalty.
What about the use of prescription narcotics?
Regarding medical cases, prescribing of narcotics or
psychotropic substances can only be done on the basis of medical necessity, in
accordance with the decree, and based on a physician’s specialization.
The law also calls for the mandatory submission of a request
by the physician to the medical authority if the patient’s condition demands an
increase in dosage percentage.
What’s the guiding ideology behind these changes?
The law updates here equate to a seismic shift in the way
drug addiction and use is viewed by the authorities. The focus has shifted
towards rehabilitation and seeking to understand why some people may be
ignorant of the law, or make poor choices with regard to it. This is not to be
confused with a softening of attitude towards drug use — it is still a criminal
offence and the penalties for those that continue to break the law escalate
quickly. Furthermore, individuals connected with narcotic and psychotropic
substance trafficking now face stricter penalties than before.
The changes are significant as they promote health, security, and fairness, as they also allow individuals a second chance, while also remaining in line with the UAE’s zero tolerance policy against use and promotion of drugs.”
The end goal is still a drug-free society with the law protecting
the health and wellbeing of its population — it’s representative of a more
comprehensive approach to combating the consumption of drugs and the promotion
of drug use.
This article was originally published on Whatson.ae
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