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Understanding Drug Laws and Penalties in the UAE

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has strict rules regarding drugs. The government takes drug control very seriously and has made many laws to stop drug use and trafficking. These laws are both within the country and through international agreements to fight drugs and drug trafficking.

In this piece, we’ll delve into the key laws regarding drug crimes in the UAE and the consequences they entail.

The Law

The UAE has the Federal Decree-Law No. 14 of 1995, also known as the Drug Law, which was established back in 1995. Later in 2016, some parts of this law were modified through Federal Decree Law No. 8 of 2016.

Federal Decree-Law No. 8 brought about significant revisions to various articles, including Article 6. The amended version of Article 6 now encompasses a broader scope regarding the regulation of narcotics and psychotropic substances. It stipulates a comprehensive prohibition on activities such as introduction, import, export, manufacture, extraction, separation, production, obtainment, acquisition, and use of substances listed in schedules no. 1, 2, 4, and 5. Additionally, it extends the prohibition to cover any other activities and behaviors associated with these substances.

However, the amended Article 6 does allow for supervised medical uses and scientific research of these substances under specific conditions. Such activities must be conducted under the supervision of a specialized scientific entity designated by a cabinet decision, following the proposal of the Minister of Health and Prevention. This provision underscores the importance of regulatory oversight and scientific expertise in ensuring the responsible handling of narcotics and psychotropic substances for legitimate medical and research purposes.

Article 6 of the legislation unequivocally establishes stringent prohibitions on a spectrum of activities about narcotic drugs, encompassing import, export, manufacture, production, possession, procurement, and abuse. These stipulations are articulated within the ambit of the Drug Law, reaffirming a robust stance against unauthorized engagement with narcotic substances.

Nevertheless, amidst the stringency of Article 6, Article 8 introduces a nuanced framework delineating exceptions to the blanket prohibition. This provision articulates circumstances under which individuals are legally sanctioned to possess specified narcotics, contingent upon adhering to delineated criteria, particularly concerning the weight thresholds. The permissible limits are meticulously aligned with authoritative pharmacopeial standards, ensuring alignment with recognized pharmaceutical guidelines and safety considerations.

Prohibitions and Permissions in the Import, Export, and Transportation of Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances

As delineated in Article 10 of the Drug Law, the importation or exportation of narcotics and psychotropic substances is categorically proscribed, save for instances sanctioned by written authorization from the competent regulatory body.

Article 11 of the Drug Law elucidates the entities empowered to grant such authorization, including:

  • Governmental entities and accredited institutions are vested with regulatory oversight.
  • Government-operated or licensed medical facilities such as hospitals, dispensaries, and sanatoriums.
  • Accredited chemical analysis laboratories or facilities dedicated to medical, scientific, or industrial research.
  • Licensed establishments encompassing pharmaceutical warehouses, pharmacies, and medical pharmaceutical factories, contingent upon the employment of a duly licensed pharmacist tasked with overseeing operations.
  • Intermediary offices and agencies representing medicinal and pharmaceutical entities duly licensed to engage in professional activities, provided they retain the services of a licensed pharmacist bearing responsibility for their operations.

Article 12 of the Drug Law delves into the nuanced criteria for the issuance of permits, emphasizing the importance of rehabilitation for certain individuals. Specifically, the provision outlines that permits may not be granted to individuals falling within the following categories unless they have undergone a process of rehabilitation:

  • Individuals who have been convicted and sentenced for a crime involving breach of trust.
  • Individuals convicted of offenses enumerated within the Drug Law itself.
  • Individuals who have been convicted of a crime relating to financial misconduct, integrity breaches, moral corruption, property-related offenses, or those suspected of engaging in or attempting to commit such crimes.
  • This comprehensive delineation underscores the stringent measures in place to ensure the integrity and reliability of permit holders within the framework of drug regulations.

Moreover, Article 13 of the Drug Law further accentuates the regulatory landscape by stipulating that narcotics or psychotropic substances intercepted by UAE Customs cannot be released without the requisite permit. Such permits must bear the signature of the director accountable for the entity authorized to import the consignment, thereby establishing a robust framework for the lawful importation and distribution of controlled substances.


By the provisions delineated in Article 6 of the aforementioned legislation, any engagement in the sale, possession, or production of illicit narcotics is expressly forbidden, with corresponding penalties of a stringent nature.

The severity of penalties levied is contingent upon the nature of the transgression; however, a baseline punitive measure for such infractions entails a minimum imprisonment term of 4 (four) years, coupled with a monetary fine amounting to no less than AED 10,000. Furthermore, deportation may be enforced in certain instances, further compounding the ramifications of the offense.

Furthermore, Article 58 of the Drug Law stipulates that individuals found guilty of recurrent violations under its purview may be subject to additional sanctions, beyond those typically prescribed. Such measures may include, but are not limited to:

  • Confinement to a designated domicile.
  • Restriction from residing in specific locales.
  • Compulsory repatriation to one’s country of origin.
  • Prohibition from frequenting designated areas.
  • Suspension of professional licensure or trade privileges.
  • The temporal duration of these additional measures must fall within a spectrum spanning from a minimum of 1 year to a maximum of 5 years. Should the convicted individual contravene any of the conditions imposed by these measures, they are liable to face imprisonment for a duration not exceeding 1 year, nor falling below 3 months, thereby intensifying the punitive repercussions for non-compliance.

Drug Addiction Treatment

By Article 42 of the Drug Law, the judicial system possesses the authority, except in instances involving repeated offenses, to eschew punitive measures against offenders and opt for alternative courses of action. These alternatives include:

  • Mandating the individual to undergo rehabilitation within a designated addiction treatment facility, where they can receive specialized care and support tailored to their needs.
  • Directing the individual to a rehabilitation center, where comprehensive programs are in place to address the underlying causes of addiction and facilitate the journey toward recovery.
  • Levying a fine on the individual, not surpassing the sum of AED 10,000, as a means of financial consequence for their actions.
  • Imposing a regimen of community service upon the individual, enabling them to contribute positively to society while concurrently addressing their substance abuse issues through intervention programs and supervision.

These measures underscore a commitment to not only address the legal ramifications of drug-related offenses but also prioritize the rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals into society, emphasizing support and assistance over punitive measures where deemed appropriate by the judicial system.

Article 43 of the Drug Law delineates a framework concerning the treatment and legal proceedings for individuals grappling with substance abuse. According to this provision, individuals voluntarily seeking addiction treatment, either by presenting themselves or through the initiative of their spouse or relative, are exempt from criminal prosecution. Such individuals are required to undergo treatment at designated addiction treatment units until a decision for their release is made.

Should an individual not be confined to a treatment unit by the Public Prosecution, the entity responsible for confinement must obtain prior approval from the Public Prosecution before confining the individual. Failure to comply with the treatment plan, release without commitment to treatment, or retention of narcotics in possession may render the individual susceptible to criminal proceedings.

However, it’s important to note that the exemption from criminal prosecution outlined in clause (1) does not extend to individuals deemed non-compliant with the prescribed treatment plan by the treatment unit.

Furthermore, the period allocated for treatment and rehabilitation is capped at two years.

It’s essential to highlight that the provisions of this Article do not extend to individuals found in possession of narcotics who fail to surrender them to the treatment unit, Public Prosecution, or Police upon seeking treatment.

Special Cases of Exemption

Exceptions to criminal penalties are delineated in Article 55 of the Drug Law, where individuals who proactively disclose information to judicial or administrative authorities before the commission of a crime may be absolved of penalties for specific offenses outlined in Articles 46, 48, 49, and 50 of the Drug Law.

Under such circumstances, the court retains the discretion to either fully exempt the individual from punishment or mitigate the severity of the punishment if the disclosure occurs post-crime but before the commencement of investigations. Moreover, if the disclosure leads to the apprehension of any individuals involved in the crime during the investigative or trial phases, the court may opt to waive the penalty altogether.

For further elucidation on matters about drug law, our team of adept Criminal lawyers in the UAE stands ready to offer comprehensive assistance. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us today for guidance tailored to your specific needs!

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