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This major reform, which was announced last week by UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, aims to modernize the country's antiquated drug laws by prioritizing treatment over punishment. Once the law takes effect Jan. 2, 2022, tourists caught entering Dubai with weed or THC-infused products will no longer be charged with a criminal offense. Instead, police will simply confiscate and destroy any contraband weed.
Under the UAE's current drug laws, anyone caught possessing even a residual amount of cannabis can be sentenced to a minimum of two years in jail. This penalty even applies to anyone with residual weed in their system, too. Last year, Dubai police arrested Peter Clark, an American citizen, after he tested positive for THC on a routine drug test during an emergency hospital visit. Clark did not even bring weed into the UAE, though, but had simply gotten high on legal pot in Nevada before his trip. He was eventually released after two months, but still had to cough up $50,000 in fines and legal fees.
The new law also reduces the mandatory minimum sentence for first-time drug possession to three months, down from 2 years. Courts will still have the option of imposing massive fines for first-time offenses, though, ranging from Dh20,000 to Dh100,000 ($5,445 to $27,225). A second offense carries a six-month mandatory minimum, and a third offense is punishable by at least two years in jail and a fine of Dh100,000 or more.
“We can clearly see a recognition of the need for a co-ordinated approach that considers criminal justice and public health in regards to using drugs,” Dr. Hasan Elhais, legal consultant at Al Rowaad Advocates, told The National News. “While justice is at the heart of the new law, we can also see how the issue of using drugs is being looked at as an illness rather than a crime."
Instead of being locked in prison with violent criminals, drug offenders will be sent to secure detention centers offering rehab and treatment services, sports, and vocational training. And instead of mandatorily deporting expats who are caught with drugs in the UAE, courts will also be allowed to decide whether or not to deport foreign citizens for minor drug offenses on a case-by-case basis.
“In this recent change, reform is further prioritized, offenders are given second chances and are spared loss of successful futures and decent living they have in the country,” said Ahmed Ibrahim Saif, senior judge at the Dubai Civil Court to The National News. “Now, it's becoming flexible in terms of allowing judges to decide it rather than keeping it mandatory... For example, someone in court for using a controlled medicine without a prescription must be deported according to the previous law, but now they are given a second chance.”
But although the new law decreases penalties for common possession and use, it increases the fines for anyone caught selling or trafficking drugs. The penalty for “encouraging personal drug use among others'' will increase from Dh20,000 to Dh50,000, with a mandatory minimum of five years in jail. In cases where the courts find someone responsible for causing serious harm related to drug trafficking, the penalty rises to Dh200,000 and at least 10 years behind bars.