Dubai Customs officials check a cargo consignment for narcotic substances at Jebel Ali Port. Picture for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The easing of UAE’s anti-narcotics law will provide leniency to first-time offenders and shift the focus on rehabilitation, instead of punishment, judicial officials say.

The new decree No 30 of 2021 issued in September brought key amendments to Federal Law No 14 of 1994 on narcotic and psychotropic substances.

Will there be reduced jail time?

Mohammed Al Najar

The new amendment eases penalties and reduces minimum sentences from two years to three months for first-time drug offenders and offers convicts rehabilitation at a detention facility separate from other felons.

What about flexibility on deportation?

Foreigners caught using drugs are typically deported to their home country after imprisonment, but the new amendment leaves that decision up to the judge to decide if someone convicted is allowed to stay in the UAE.

What is the new approach?

“Doctors, lawyers, psychologists and lawmen were always calling to deal with the drug addict and consumer as a patient, not as a criminal who needs to be placed behind bars. The Emirati legislators listened to these voices and the response was the new amendments,” Emirati lawyer Mohammed Al Najar told Gulf News.

He said the significant changes to UAE legislation will come into force from January 2022.

What about rehab centres?

Dr Hasan Elhais

According to Article seven of the new law, authorities concerned should establish dedicated centres where those convicted of drug use or possession will serve their terms. “These will provide treatment and rehabilitation programmes, sports and vocational training, as well as family, occupational and social integration initiatives. The legislator considers the drug addict as a patient who needs treatment to return to society, not a criminal who is to be removed from society,” added Al Najar.

One of the key changes leaves the deportation decision for convicted foreign drug users up to the judge, instead of making it mandatory in all such cases.

Legal consultant Dr Hasan Elhais of Al Rowaad Advocates said that deportation was mandatory against expats convicted of drug use and possession of drugs for the purpose of personal use before this was changed in Article 75 of the new law.

“This is significant as the legislative philosophy behind the amendments is coherent in the way it’s considering justice, health, sense of security, and family,” Elhais said.

“They indicate a recognition of the need for a coordinated approach that considers criminal justice and public health.”

What are the punishments for first-time offenders

Article 41 of the new law states that first-time offenders will be punished with imprisonment for up to three months or a fine between Dh20,000 and Dh100,000.

Repeating the offence a second time within three years from the date of the first offence will entail a jail term that is not less than six months or a fine between Dh30,000 and Dh100,000.

But third-time offenders will face a minimum of two years in prison and will have to pay a fine of Dh100,000.

“The law gives the court freedom to decide between imprisonment or fine for first and second-time offenders, but in the third instance, there will be a penalty of both prison term and fine,” added Elhais.

Ahmed Saif

Moreover, Al Najar believes that the three months’ punishment is enough time to get rid of the drug from the body before starting the rehabilitation process as per the new amendment. “The law gives the power to the court to replace the imprisonment clause by placing the suspect in a rehabilitation centre. People deserve a second chance,” added Al Najar

Land of tolerance

Senior Judge Ahmed Saif at Dubai Civil Court praised the new changes. “The UAE is a country of tolerance, so it is natural that our laws follow in the same direction,” he said.

Another amendment expanded the jurisdiction of Abu Dhabi federal courts to exclusively hear not only cases of drug trafficking, but also cases of promoting drugs regardless of where they happen in the country.