Home of Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, Ends Jail Time for Travelers with THC

In a surprise move, the nation is slowly embracing progressive policies on drugs.

Benjamin M. Adams

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) eased some of its harsh drug laws, relaxing penalties for tourists who enter the country with products infused with THC. The new protocol for Dubai travelers is to confiscate and destroy cannabis products instead of imposing hard time.

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the UAE, announced the new changes on November 27. As part of a series of sweeping changes, people who are convicted of drug-related crimes may serve time in secure detention offering treatment and education instead of prison time. In addition, deportation for non-citizens in drug use and possession cases is no longer mandatory. 

Until recently, drug possession was not tolerated in any degree in the UAE. Carrying residual amounts of any drug—including cannabis—could land you years in prison. As little as five years ago, four years was the minimum jail sentence for drug crimes. High Times routinely called it one of the worst countries with some of the “strictest weed laws.”

But the nation updated its outdated laws. The new legislation was outlined in the Official Gazette. The latest issue of the Official Gazette can be downloaded here. First-time offenders will receive minimum sentences of three months as part of a new approach that hopes to integrate “drug users” back into society, but also imposing harsher punishments for serial offenders.

The Official Gazette is a periodic publication issued by the Government of Dubai through the Supreme Legislation Committee (SLC). According to the government’s website, it contains all legislation issued by the Government of Dubai​​ including laws, decrees, resolutions, regulations, bylaws, instructions and orders.

Carrying food, drinks or any other cannabis-infused products will no longer be a criminal offense. Instead, such items will simply be confiscated and destroyed. The UAE previously reduced minimum sentences for cannabis from four years to two in 2016.

The National News, which reports on the UAE, announced that the new legislation will go into effect on January 2. “The legislator gave the court freedom to decide the penalty between either imprisonment or fine in the first and second instances but in the third instance, a penalty of combined prison and fine is mandatory,” Dr. Hasan Elhais, of Al Rowaad Advocates, told National News.

“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. Elhais said. “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.”

Americans in Dubai

Americans tend to run into a bit of culture clash in UAE: for instance, it’s illegal to say “fuck” in public or take photos of people without their permission. The same applies to the degree of punishment for cannabis.

Last April, American Peter Clark found himself in legal jeopardy over testing positive for cannabinoids, even though he consumed it in the United States. The website “Detained in Dubai”, a group founded by Radha Stirling, claims to “have helped thousands of victims of injustice over the past 10 years.”

It was there High Times caught on about the case of Clark, who learned the hard way that Dubai does not play around when it comes to cannabis. Unfortunately, this was before the law of the land was updated.

“I was absolutely stunned to learn that I was being charged due to residual marijuana in my system. I smoked it legally back in America long before I even got on the plane,” he told the Daily Mail. “I knew about Dubai’s strict drug laws but never for one moment did I think something I legally did in my own country would lead to my arrest.”

With the nation’s new laws on drugs, it’s clear the times have changed.

Benjamin M. Adams

Benjamin M. Adams is Staff Writer at High Times, and has written for Vice, Forbes, HuffPost, The Advocate, Culture, and many other publications. He holds a Bachelor of Communication from Southern New Hampshire University.

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