New UAE drug law: Treatment for first-time offenders; deportation, tougher penalties clarified

New law to become effective from January 2, 2022

By Sherouk Zakaria

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Photo: File
Photo: File

Published: Sun 28 Nov 2021, 12:30 PM

Last updated: Mon 29 Nov 2021, 3:19 PM

The UAE issued amendments on the anti-narcotics law as part of the recent largest set of legislative reforms in the country’s history.

The new Federal Decree Law no. 30 of 2021 on combating narcotics and psychotropic substances, to be effective from January 2, 2022, brings key changes to the Federal Law no. 14 of 1994.

Some of the drug law’s major highlights include rehabilitation of first-time drug offenders, optional deportation of expats convicted in drug-related cases and tougher penalties on serial offenders.

Another amendment expanded the jurisdiction of Abu Dhabi federal courts to exclusively hear cases of promoting drugs, besides drug trafficking, regardless of where the crime occurs in the country.

On Saturday, the UAE Government announced the change of 40 laws in the largest ever legislative reforms in the young country’s 50-year history. The new reforms aim to develop the legislative structure of various sectors including investment, trade and industry, commercial companies, residency, online security and social affairs as the UAE prepares to usher in its next 50-year journey.

Dr Hasan Elhais, Legal Consultant at Al Rowaad Advocates, said the new drug law presents a comprehensive approach to combating the use and promotion of narcotics.

“It takes into account justice, public health, security and family relations,” said Elhais.

He added that the philosophy behind the legislation responds to the need for a coordinated approach that combines between criminal justice, public health and family ties.

The amendments to the drug law give the opportunity for first-time convicts of personal narcotics use and possession to get treatment, while ensuring a curb on drug promotion, sales and repeated use through tougher penalties.

Elhais noted that the changes also indicate that the country views drug consumption as a disease rather a crime.

Treatment of first-time drug offenders

Among the law’s key highlights is the replacement of punishment with treatment for first-time convicts of personal drug use and possession.

From January next year, courts will have increased jurisdiction to send offenders to specialized rehabilitation and treatment centers to be established across the country under the law where they can serve their jail term.

The provision only applies if the convict is not a repeat offender and upon a medical report of the case submitted by the supervisory medical committee within six months.

It will also not apply for offenders who have been previously subject to treatment in a rehabilitation unit upon a judicial order or have not completed three years from the date of previous treatment.

The offender’s rehab admission should not exceed one year.

Under the law, rehabilitation centers are bound to maintain complete confidentiality of all information about offenders.

Elhais said serving time at these centers will help reintegrate drug users into society through rehabilitation, sports and vocational training, and social integration programmes.

Subject to the opinion of the public prosecution, the court shall have the discretion to release the offender from the specialized unit in the two instances:

If the medical report obtained from the supervisory committee indicates that the offender is fit to leave.

If the supervisory committee approves the request of the offender to leave the facility.

The new law orders the establishment of specialized treatment and rehabilitation centers, as well as a committee to oversee the rehab units. Local health authorities are mandated to establish similar units.

The cabinet shall release regulations to govern the treatment units.

If the supervisory committee reports on any breaches or crimes committed by the offender during the time of admission, the court has the right to sentence the offender to jail depending on the offense. The time period that the offender spends in rehab will be reduced from the overall jail term.


Tougher penalties on serial offenders

While first-time convicts of personal drug use and possession can have their punishment exchanged with treatment under the new law, repeated offense can result in tougher penalties.

The decree law introduces three degrees of penalty issued against drug use and possession.

First-time convicts are subject to a three-month prison term or a fine not less than Dh20,000 and not exceeding Dh100,000, which can be replaced by treatment according to the court decision.

Repeated offense within three years of the first conviction can earn the offender a six-month jail term or a fine not less than Dh30,000 and not exceeding Dh100,000.

However, a third-time offense brings both a two-year prison term and a fine of at least Dh100,000.

Elhais explained, “first- and second-time offenders will face either a fine or imprisonment but in the third-time violation, they will be subject to both jail and fine.”

Heftier fines for inciting and facilitating drug use

Fines of crimes related to inciting and inducing drug use and facilitating the sales of narcotics increased from Dh20,000.

The new law imposes a minimum of 5-year imprisonment and a Dh50,000 fine on anyone who induces, incites or facilitates drug use for another person. The crime will be considered an aggravating circumstance if it took place in public gatherings, educational and sports institutions or places of worship and involved a female, juvenile, person of determination, or someone under the influence of alcohol.

If the crime caused harm to the victim, the offender faces a minimum of 7 years in prison and a fine of at least Dh100,000. If serious harm was caused, the offender faces a minimum of 10 years in prison and a fine of at least AED200,000. If the crime results in the victim’s death, the offender faces death penalty or life imprisonment.

Those who manage, prepare or set up places for drug consumption shall face a jail term of at least 7 or 10 years, depending on the substances facilitated, and a minimum fine of Dh100,000. Penalty of repeated offense has increased to life imprisonment combined with a minimum Dh100,000 fine.


Optional deportation of expats

The new law removes the previous mandatory deportation of expats convicted with drug abuse or possession for personal use, granting the option for courts to decide.

It also stipulates that tourists and visitors carrying food items or products mixed with narcotics while entering the country for the first time will not face legal action. According to article 96, the items will be confiscated at port entries and destroyed by the relevant authorities. Carrying such items will not be treated within the framework of import, transport or possession of drugs.

Medical use

The law now makes it mandatory for physicians to submit a request to the specialized medical authority before increasing the dose of any medicine that contains narcotics or psychotropic substances, if the patient’s condition requires so.

Physicians are allowed to give medical prescriptions of narcotics or psychotropic substances only if the patient’s condition requires, depending on the physician’s specialization and in compliance with the percentages indicated in the decree.

According to article 59 of the new decree, any person licensed to hold substances mentioned breaches the purpose of use will be subject to at least five years in prison and a minimum fine of Dh100,000.

If the licensed holder used the substance for the purpose of marketing or trading, the offender will face life imprisonment and a fine of not less than Dh100,000 and not exceeding Dh200,000. Repeated offense earns the offender a death sentence.

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