UAE’s new drug laws reduce sentences and eliminate mandatory deportation for expats
The UAE has changed its drug laws, reducing minimum sentences, commuting sentences for first-time offenders, and emphasizing rehabilitation rather than punishment.
The changes allow those convicted of drugs a chance at treatment and educational programs rather than incarceration.
Deportation for expats convicted of drug use and possession is no longer mandatory. Sometimes they can stay.
First-time offenders can expect a minimum sentence of 3 months to return to society. However, serial offenders will be subject to stiffer penalties.
Carrying food, drinks or any other products containing marijuana, hashish, or THC found in cannabis is no longer a criminal offense. These items will simply be confiscated and destroyed.
The new legislation was announced in the Official Gazette and will take effect on Jan. 2.
Other changes in the law include increased protection of personal information, stricter copyright rules and the fight against fake news. These changes include more than 40 laws.
Three-month penalty for the first offense
Article 41 of the new law states that first-time offenders will be sentenced to at least three months in prison and a fine of 20,000 to 100,000 dirhams ($5,445 to $27,225).
If the crime is repeated within three years, the sentence will be at least six months in prison with a fine of AED 30,000 to AED 100,000.
The third offense will carry a minimum sentence of two years in prison and a fine of at least AED 100,000.
“The legislator has given the court the freedom to choose the punishment of imprisonment or a fine in the first and second cases, but in the third case the punishment of imprisonment and a fine is mandatory,” said Dr. Hasan Elhais, a lawyer from the Al Rowaad law firm.
Specialized detention centers instead of prisons
The law provides for the Ministry of Health and Prevention to set up special centers where those convicted of drug use or possession will serve their sentences.
They would provide treatment and rehabilitation programs, sports and vocational training, and family, vocational and social integration initiatives.
Recognizing the disease, not the crime
Section 45 of the new law allows courts to prioritize treatment for first-time offenders.
“We clearly see recognition of the need for a coordinated criminal justice and public health approach to drug use,” said legal consultant Dr. Elhuis.
“While justice is at the heart of the new law, we also see that the problem of drug use is treated as a disease, not a crime.”
The previous law required courts to order expatriate deportation in drug-related cases.
“But now deportation of expatriates is optional for judges in cases of personal use, possession or possession with intent to use under Section 75 of the new law,” Dr. Elhuis said.
“The legislative philosophy behind the amendments is consistent in that it considers many factors, including health, justice, sense of security and family.”
Ahmed Ibrahim Saif, former chairman of the Dubai Criminal Court, said it is important that people convicted of less serious drug crimes be given a chance to reform.
The changes in the legal system are in line with the UAE’s principles of tolerance and aim to give offenders a second chance.
Deportation was considered a harsh punishment. “Now it becomes flexible, allowing judges to decide rather than making it mandatory,” he said.
The official believes this is a step in the right direction, especially in cases involving the use of controlled drugs.
The tough stance on human trafficking remains in place
Under the updated laws, the fine for offenders for encouraging personal drug use, among others, has been increased from Dh20,000 to a minimum of Dh50,000, while the minimum five-year prison term remains unchanged.