Drugs, narcotics, medicines, pharmaceuticals in Dubai
Watch out when travelling to Dubai. That bread roll you had at Heathrow, or the anti-hayfever pills or cough medicine you just bought at Boots, might get you an unexpected extended stay in Dubai, courtesy of the local constabulary and the strict law in the UAE regarding drug use and possession. While the information on this page relates to Dubai, expect it to be the same or similar in other Emirates. For example, according to the UK Foreign Office, 59 Britons were arrested on drug related charges in the UAE in 2007.
No, this is not a guide about how and where to find weed, pot, or similar substances in Dubai. Drug use in Dubai and the UAE does occur but you won't find ecstasy and the like in Dubai nightclubs as easily as in many western cities. Don't be tempted to bring your own. Go without and wait till you get to Amsterdam or Berlin, unless you want to risk an unexpected extension to your Dubai visit.
Drugs in Dubai - marijuana, hashish, cocaine, heroin, etc
10 Sep 2012 - a new synthetic cannabis drug has appeared in the UAE, referred to as "Spice" or "K2". The British Embassy in Dubai issued a statement to schools saying "From July 1, the drug called Space, Spice or K2 has been confirmed as an illegal substance in the UAE," and the vice consul, Mandy Smith, was quoted by The National as saying "I should perhaps tell you that on the first day we had 35 British nationals arrested and detained. It has escalated from there." Normally a 4 year jail sentence followed by deportation is imposed for using the drug, and up to 15 years in prison is possible for selling the drug.
Abu Dhabi, Dubai and the UAE are very strict with respect to laws related to possession and use of drugs and narcotics, and have a zero-tolerance policy. The standard minimum jail sentence for possession is 4 years, and some high profile names have been caught at Dubai airport breaking the law. The number of drug cases and charges increased sharply in 2007 and 2008, possibly as a result of the increasing population of Dubai but also because the Dubai customs officials at Dubai airport have more sophisticated equipment that can detect minute quantities of drugs.
Just like anywhere in the world, if you want to make a statement and stand out in a crowd, whether because of appearance or behaviour, you can assume you'll stand out to customs authorities also, which probably increases your chances of being randomly selected for further questioning. We're not saying it's fair, just pointing out what is common, and yes you can be just plain unlucky - as it seems with some of the examples below. If you do get into trouble, it usually goes smoother if you try to negotiate for phone calls etc rather than demand your rights (especially if you don't know what they are).
Blood and urine tests for drugs in Dubai
Possession of drugs is not the only way to finding a cheap hotel room for a few years in Dubai and the UAE. Just having evidence of consumption will also get you incarcerated should you fail a blood or urine test. So yes, in theory, even a pleasant afternoon at The Bulldog in Amsterdam might have unexpected consequences when travelling on to Dubai the next day. However ...
... A contradicting story to the previous comment was reported in The National 02 Oct 2013 which said Blood tests found traces of hashish but he was able to prove he took the drug in the European country where he boarded the plane and not in the UAE, so a drugs charge was not pursued. Referring to an airline passenger who received a 4 month jail sentence at the Abu Dhabi Criminal Court for sexual harrassment (of a flight attendant) and endangering passenger safety. We'd be very wary of assuming that the story indicates it's safe (from a UAE legal perspective) to take drugs outside the UAE and not worry about any legal consequences if coming to or transiting through the UAE while still under the influence or with drugs still detectable in your system.
Banned Medicines and prescription drugs including codeine
When travelling to Dubai, the best thing you can do from the perspective of medicines, is to not bring any at all (toothpaste and soap should be ok). If you do need to bring medicine with you, and it is not on the banned list, then bring the prescription, and have it attested or notarised (try the UAE embassy nearest to where you live) before you travel. There have been cases of people stuck in jail waiting for a copy of a prescription to be sent over, and even then it's not guaranteed to be a "get out of jail free" card.
Apart from the list of narcotics (cocaine, heroin, marijuana, etc) that are illegal in most countries, there is a list of of about 400 banned medicines in the UAE. Check with Ministry of Health, or the UAE Consulate or Embassy for the most up to date information but failing that (after all, how many people actually do contact the relevant government ministries before going on holiday?) keep in mind the following are banned substances (exceptions possible when administered in UAE hospitals) and will probably land in you jail for 4 years if you're caught with them in your possession, whether or not you have a prescription:
This following list comes from Fair Trials International, who say they got it from the March 2007 dated General Authority for Health Services Guide to the Management of Controlled Drugs in the Private Sector.
Don't assume this list is comprehensive. If you've got any medicine at all, don't bring it unless you can verify it is on a permitted list, and bring a presciption anyway. Even something as innocuous sounding as Panadol can get you into trouble (there are some over-the-counter versions that contain codeine for example).
Note that nothing written on this page is authoritative information, nor should it be interpreted as any sort of statement as to what is legally permitted or not. It is only our interpretation and might be wrong, misleading, and/or out of date. Verify anything independently with an official or authoritative source.
UAE Ministry of Health drug import guidelines
An (undated) memo or letter from the UAE Ministry of Health is quoted below (in point 2, "Psychotrpic" is presumably meant to be Psychotropic). If you follow the guidelines, don't assume you're home free bringing in your prescription medication. If you are unlucky you might still have some explaining to do at customs, and that explanation time might be continued in court, with a jail sentence the price to pay if your explanation is inadequate from the point of view of the authorities. Bail is not certain either - you could be stuck in a cell while "helping the police with their enquiries." At least try to get a fresh prescription before you leave, and try to get it attested or get a supporting document from the nearest UAE embassy or consulate before you leave. Search some UAE newspapers for stories of how it can go wrong with respect to UAE drug laws.
UAE Ministry of Health - Directorate of Drug Control
Guidelines for the Customs control at Airports, Seaports Post offices and by road etc for the importation of medicines for personal use
The above rules are issued according to Decree No. 73/2001
Dr. Eassa Bin Jakka Al Mansoori
1Containing a substance listed in the current version of the International Convention on Psychotropic substances 1971
Footnote 2 has the date 1961 in the Arabic version.
Don't accept sweets from strangers
Pharmacies in Dubai
If you do feel unwell, a pharmacy (chemist), may be a helpful first stop to suggest some medication. Pharmacists in the UAE are usually very helpful and while they are not doctors, chances are they know more than you so a quick visit is usually going to be more sensible than attempting self-diagnosis (or an internet-diagnosis). There are plenty around - pharmacies seem to be more common than grocery shops in the UAE.
One of the ironies in Dubai is that while some over the counter products in other countries are banned in the UAE, it is possible to buy the contraceptive pill and many antibiotics over the counter in Dubai, which are normally only available on prescription elsewhere.
Examples of Dubai drug cases
I beg your pardon?
If you're not convinced that the Dubai authorities mean business when it comes to drug offences, consider the penalty handed out for the apparently less disturbing crime of killing a cop. In February 2008, a 22 year old youth was sentenced to 6 months in jail for running over and killing a Dubai traffic policeman. Salah Bu Farousha, Head of Dubai's Traffic Prosecution, said "Following this tragic case, we would like to forewarn the public that we will tail negligent drivers, especially those who daydream while driving their vehicles ... the sword of justice will be right behind you ..."
Six months? The swords of justice belonging to the Dubai traffic police appear to be less sharp than those wielded down at the Dubai airport customs department. Those swords of justice seem to point to the anomaly where someone in the unenviable position of having to choose between smoking a joint or taking down the arresting officer could be breathing fresh air sooner if they choose option B.
It's a different story in Sharjah though. In December 2002, 62-year-old Khalifa Khalfan Al Qaizi was convicted of killing Lieutenant Mohammad Al Tunaiji, a Sharjah police officer, in Al Dhaid (part of the emirate of Sharjah). The shooting occured during a car chase. Mr Al Qaizi was executed by firing squad in Sharjah Central Prison 30 or 31 October 2006.
Last update Sunday 15-Dec-2013