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. While the information on this page relates to Dubai,
expect it to be the same or similar in other Emirates. According to
the UK Foreign Office, 59 Britons were arrested on drug related charges
in the UAE in 2007.
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.
Dubai and the UAE are very strict when it comes to illegal drugs / 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 the airport. The number of drug cases 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
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.
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/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 / 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:
- any opium based substance - for example codeine (which is available
over the counter in many countries)
- poppy seeds
- qat (or gat / ghat / kat / khat, proper name Catha Edulis) - a plant usually chewed, is a prohibited drug in the UAE.
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 may be wrong, misleading,
and/or out of date. Verify anything independently with an official or authoritative
Don't accept sweets from strangers
- Remember what your mother always told you about strangers offering sweets and lollies? Well she may have neglected to tell you that it's an especially bad idea to accept them in the UAE because you might end up in jail, as one unfortunate young lady discovered, no doubt to her astonishment.
- In November 2010 a German air hostess met some friends in a hotel in Dubai and apparently accepted a sweet from someone, which subsequently made her feel dizzy. The sweet allegedly contained hashish according to later reports.
- The story goes that she went to hospital, had a blood test, and was informed her blood showed evidence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
- So the stewardess went to the police in Dubai to complain about Mr Lollypop (which one would have thought is a sensible thing to do) and found herself locked up pending trial for illegal drug consumption as a result.
- After 4 months in the clink, she appeared at the Dubai Court of First Instance on a charge of consuming hashish. The case was adjourned, she was refused bail and sent back to jail to wait for her next trial date. Gulf News reported 24 February 2011 that her lawyer said "Following check ups, doctors informed her that tetra-hydro canabinol appeared in her blood tests. She requested to call the police and inform them what the Indian man did to her." And then reported that Presiding Judge Mohammad refused to bail A.E. and adjourned the case to next month.
- She was released in March 2011 on bail after the next hearing at the Dubai Court of First Instance. According to a Gulf News report 18 March 2011, her lawyer argued that "My client is a claimant and not a defendant in this case. She is the one who reported to the police that she was drugged. ... Doctors informed her that tetra hydro canabenol appeared in her blood tests. She became hysterical and reported to the police what the Indian man did to her. She cooperated with the police and the Indian suspect was arrested in a sting operation. He was referred to court where he was punished and deported. All witnesses and law enforcement officers confirmed that she was the one who reported the matter to the police."
- One wonders just what sort of logic processing goes on for the authorities to conclude that someone would complain to the police about being drugged if they knew they had actually taken illegal drugs themselves. But that's the kind of logic it pays to watch out for in the UAE.
- October 2011 - the flight attendant was acquitted in the Dubai Court of First Instance. Gulf News reported on 18 October 2011, that the Presiding Judge, Hamad Abdul Latif Abdul Jawad, said she "is innocent".
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). And
pharmacies seem to be more common than grocery shops.
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
- 26 Jun 2012 - news reports said a 19 year old Syrian and a 21 or 23 year old British citizen were sentenced to death in Abu Dhabi (at the Court of First Instance?) for selling 20g of marijuana to an undercover policeman.
- A 65 year Emirati from Khor Fakkan was given a life sentence in 2005 in Dubai for possessing 850 grams of qat. His cousin brought it to Dubai from Yemen (reported in Gulf News 14 July 2010).
- A pharmacist working in a private hospital in Dubai was sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted for selling a bottle of Actifed Compound Linctus (which contains codeine) without being given a prescription. The police arrested him in what sounded like a sting operation where a patient put pressure on the pharmicist to sell a second bottle, even though he only had a prescription for one bottle. A Gulf News report 24 June 2010 quoted an unnamed police officer as saying "We arrested the man when he gave the bottle of medicine to our informer,"
- A 30 year old British DJ was arrested in Dubai in March 2010, and sentenced to 4 years in jail in June 2010 by the Dubai Court of First Instance after a test revealed traces of marijuana/cannabis/tetrahydrocannabinol in his system. He said he'd last had a joint in December 2009 in Britain. Dubai Police were prompted to test him after they received a tip that the DJ was using hashish.
- Two Canadian tourists in September 2009, Rocky Sharma and Stephen MacLeod, discovered that even though Celebrex (an arthritis medicine) is not banned in the UAE, possession of it resulted in free budget accommodation in a Dubai jail for a month after Dubai airport officials discovered it in one of their bags when they arrived. The lengthy stay was apparently because it took that long for the Dubai authorities to figure out what the drug was. The Canadian Consulate in Dubai helped secure their release so who knows how long they could have been waiting had they not taken up the case (7 Days 25 October 2009).
- Mohammad Asif, a well known cricket player from Pakistan, was detained
on 01 June 2008 after authorities found some white powder which they
didn't think was flour. Despite tests apparently confirming that
the powder contained opium, the
public prosecuter decided not to press charges, and Mr Asif was deported
from Dubai on 20 June 2008 after spending 3 weeks in jail. The bewildered Mr Asif reportedly said during interrogation that he thought it was "A herbal dark substance ..."
- Keith Andrew Brown (or Keith Brown), found himself receiving a 4
year jail sentence in February 2008 after Dubai Airport customs found
0.003g of cannabis stuck to the sole of his shoe, an amount almost invisible
to the naked eye. Mr Sticky-Feet was arrested in September 2007. According
to the 7 Days newspaper, Mr Brown was pardoned later in February 2008.
- Grooverider aka Raymond Bingham, a UK DJ, was sentenced in February
2008 to 4 years in jail for possession of 2.16 grams of marijuana (he
was arrested in November 2007 at Dubai Airport). He was released at the start of Ramadan 2008, along with over 700 other prisoners who were pardoned, and deported back to the UK on 04 September 2008.
- Dallas Austin, a USA music producer, received a 4 year jail sentence
in July 2006 for cocaine possession. There was a report that another American was in court for a similar offence on the same day, and the judge said something like "Oh no, not another one". Mr Austin was pardoned by Sheikh
Mohammed shortly after sentencing. Unknown what happened to the other druggie.
- An adviser with the Poppy Elimination Programme in Kandahar, Afghanistan, who was also a consultant with the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), copped a 4 year sentence in June 2007 for illegal possession and consumption of 0.6 gm of hashish and 2 poppy seeds. He was arrested at Dubai Airport while on transit from Afghanistan. He was apparently taking the poppy seeds to Canada for experiments as part of his job. As for the wakky bakky, his defence lawyer, Saeed Al Ghailani, said "It was natural that he tested positive for hashish which appeared in his urine test ... since he collects and burns between five to ten tonnes a day." According to The Times, he was pardoned by the ruler of Dubai, and deported to Canada.
- Cat Le-Huy was arrested at Dubai Airport because customs officers found him in possession of melatonin according to Daily Mail and BBC News reports. Both reports said that melatonin is available over the counter in Dubai.
- There are several reports (in mid 2008) of a Swiss man in jail for possession of 3 poppy seeds that he brought with him to Dubai after eating a poppy seed bun at Heathrow airport.
- In March 2005, Tracy Wilkinson was arrested at Dubai Airport after her urine tested positive for codeine. She was detained in prison until May 2005, when she was acquitted according to BBC reports. According to other reports, she was found guilty and given a 4 year jail sentence for possession of narcotics. A prescription from her GP in the UK was presented in court which helped secure her release. The irony is that she was caught when leaving the UAE, after having been given codeine at a Dubai hospital for her back pain. There were reports that she was behaving oddly at the airport which prompted the authorities to detain her.
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 30/31 October 2006.