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UAE eases drug laws: No more jail for those bringing in THC

This report by Associated Press and Bezinga

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United Arab Emirates has eased some of its harsh drug laws, relaxing penalties for travelers who arrive in the country with products containing THC, the main intoxicating chemical in cannabis.

The new law, published on 28 November 2021 in the UAE’s official gazette, says people caught carrying food, drinks and other items with cannabis into the country will no longer land in prison if it’s their first time. Instead, authorities will confiscate and destroy the products.

The law marks a noteworthy change for one of the world’s most restrictive nations when it comes to importing common drugs for personal use, from cannabis to over-the-counter medications like narcotics, sedatives and amphetamines. The country strictly prohibits the sale and trafficking of drugs, with drug use punishable by four years in jail.

Other changes include reducing minimum sentences from two years to three months for first-time drug offenders and offering convicts rehabilitation at a detention facility separate from other felons. Foreign drug users who are caught are typically deported to their home countries after imprisonment, but the new law leaves that decision up to the judge.

The reforms come as part of a wider legal overhaul announced as the UAE celebrates a half-century since its founding and seeks to boost its image as a cosmopolitan hub attractive to tourists and investors. For decades, the nation’s penal code, based on Islamic law, or Shariah, has routinely landed expats and tourists in jail for offenses that few Westerners would otherwise consider crimes.

Situated between the Muslim countries of Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar, a region notorious for stiff drug possession penalties, the UAE is softening its stance on drugs, giving the opportunity for first-time offenders of personal narcotics use and possession to seek rehabilitation treatments.  

Bezinga reports that the pioneering move by the UAE, which is an elective monarchy formed 50 years ago from a federation of seven emirates consisting of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain, signals a readiness by the country to develop justice and public health.

The UAE is also looking to promote its image as a cosmopolitan locale for tourists and investors alike, as it plots out the next 50 years of its journey as an international destination for the world.

Dubai, a thriving tourist hub with a population of over 3 million, is well known for luxury shopping and a lively clubbing scene. The city has increasingly become a holiday destination for Westerners, many of whom enjoy partying. Still, Dubai is incredibly strict about intoxication (allowing alcohol use only in sanctioned areas like hotel restaurants and nightclubs) and has laws against public drunkenness, as well as a zero-tolerance for drinking and driving. Over the years, violation of these laws has landed more than a few expats and vacationers in hot water.

Reported in The National News, Ahmed Ibrahim Saif, senior judge at the Dubai Civil Court and former chief justice of Dubai’s Criminal Courts, said changes to the UAE legal system were in line with the country’s tolerant principles.

“In this recent change, reform is further prioritized, offenders are given second chances and are spared the loss of successful futures and decent living they have in the country,” Saif said.

The reforms come at a time when drug use around the world is being reevaluated and previously forbidden drugs, such as ketamine and cannabis are being legally utilized in greater numbers across the world.

The Khaleej Times reports that the new UAE law calls for the establishment of specialized treatment and rehabilitation centers, as well as a committee to oversee the rehab units. The new approach by the country indicates a sea change in view, from drug consumption as a crime to considering it to be a health matter.

The new law amendments go into effect in the UAE in January 2022.

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