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United Arab Emirates to Implement Cannabis Criminal Justice Reform on January 2, 2022


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2022 is definitely looking to be a good year for cannabis reforms around the globe. The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) has refused to be left behind in this race to cannabis decriminalization.

A Muslim population mainly dominates the United Arab Emirates. Hence, the use of products capable of altering their sense of reasoning is prohibited. Since the country was founded decades ago, the rate of cannabis use has been on the low side, not just for cannabis but for all psychoactive substances. The UAE is one of the top tourist spots globally. It is impressive that the government implements progressive policies like these to encourage more tourists to visit the country and add to its economy.

On January 2nd, the United Arab Emirates will implement its new cannabis criminal justice reform that permits first-time drug offenders to be let off on warnings or with reduced penalties. Tourists and international travelers caught in possession of cannabis products containing high levels of THC will still face a sentence. But in comparison with the previous policy, the modified sentences are more reasonable.


Cannabis is an illegal substance in the United Arab Emirates. Federal Law No. 14 states that cannabis must not be brought, transported, processed, possessed, or used within the country’s borders.

All seven Emirate States in the country abide by the same drug laws. From Dubai to Abu Dhabi, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Umm al-Quwain, Sharjah, and Ajman, all these states prosecute foreigners arrested for possession and use of the prohibited substance.

The laws in the UAE are not what they used to be. They were dubbed as one of the harshest drug penalties in the world. Previously, drug traffickers faced the death penalty by firing squad. Now, they’re penalized with ranging lengths of prison sentences depending on the severity of their offense.

The country’s war on drugs is a long way from being perfect, but the government is making efforts by introducing more progressive laws. Dr. Halem Fouad Ali, Head of the UN’s regional office on drugs and crime, commended the country’s new strategy against tackling drug use and drug trafficking. 

All forms of marijuana are prohibited in the UAE, regardless of whether or not they are used for medical purposes.

There is no active medical cannabis program in the United Arab Emirates.

Some years ago, travelers who belonged to medical cannabis programs in other countries found themselves arrested in Dubai when a tiny amount of medical cannabis was detected in the system. One such story that made waves involved a British man called Connor Clements.

In addition, the country’s constitution also states that it is illegal to cultivate many marijuana seeds or seedlings. Landowners who come across cannabis plants on their plots must report them to the relevant authorities or risk prosecution. The country’s government focuses on eliminating cannabis and its use within its borders.

The new policy was announced in the United Arab Emirates’ official gazette publication. In the past, when travelers were caught with products containing THC, they were immediately locked up or, in some cases, deported back to their countries of origin. Annually, the security forces across the country arrest a considerable number of travelers with cannabis products like drinkables and edibles. The new reforms see that rather than incarcerating these travelers’ products, they would be confiscated. First-time offenders would be issued strict warnings to desist from such acts. 

These modifications to the existing policies can be described as the most significant change ever experienced in the country’s legislation. The rate of cannabis-related arrests will decrease from January 2nd.

Rather than remaining incarcerated for two years like before, first-time offenders will only serve a minimum sentence of fewer than six months. The convicts will also be kept in a separate detention area from prisoners with non-cannabis-related charges. The convicts will be offered rehabilitation for the few months they will be held in the correctional facility.

Another critical aspect of the reforms that aren’t widespread yet is that the decision to report non-citizens or residents to their home countries will be left to the court of law. The judge gets the say on whether the foreigner found in possession of cannabis or its by-products containing THC deserves to be deported or allowed to stay within the country’s borders. The U.A.E had stringent laws that stated that tourists and travelers found with drugs must be automatically deported.

According to the criminal justice reforms, offenders who commit the same cannabis-related crimes within three years are mandated to spend a minimum of six months in prison for possession of cannabis products. Third-time offenders face being incarcerated for at least two years in jail.

While speaking on the topic with the national media, the senior judge at the Dubai Civil Court, Ahmed Ibrahim, disclosed that the recent changes align with the country’s principles. Saif, who has also served as former chief justice of Dubai’s criminal courts, added that the simple sentences are the country’s way of giving offenders a much-needed second chance. Unlike before, when offenders were immediately deported with their chances of ever returning to the country decimated, now offenders soared the loss of decent futures within the country. However, the reforms didn’t budge on the existing punishments for drug trafficking. Offenders risk facing at least five years in federal prison within the country.

These reforms have been long time coming. In the past twelve months, the government has implemented many reforms across different sectors in the country. In November 2020, the government decriminalized suicide attempts and improved women’s rights in the country. It also modified the regulations on alcohol consumption.

Several analysts claim these reforms were sparked by the country’s 50th founding anniversary. We can only hope these modifications to the cannabis law will not end here. This should be nothing but a stepping stone in the right direction to a fully decriminalized cannabis market.









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