Drugs in Dubai UAE
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:
- any opium based substance - for example codeine (which is available over the counter in many countries)
- poppy seeds
- qat (gat, ghat, kat, khat, proper name is 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 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
- Resident and non resident patients can bring into the country a maximum of 3 month supply of prescription medicine, for their personal use.
- Psychotrpic [sic] medicines1 can be brought by non residents to cover their personal consumption for a maximum of 3 month period.
- Psychotropic medicines can be brought in by resident in a quantity sufficient for 1 month consumption. However, residents can bring a maximum 3 month supply if the medicine is not available in the UAE provided that they obtain the prior approval of the Drug Control Department.
- Resident and non resident patients should not bring narcotic2 medicines into the country without the prior approval from the Ministry of Health. Each case will be studied and approved. A valid prescription and medical report from the concerned hospital or department will be required.
- Medicines that arrive in the country via postal courier can not be released to the patient unless the above requirements are fulfilled.
The above rules are issued according to Decree No. 73/2001
Dr. Eassa Bin Jakka Al Mansoori
Director of Drug Control Department
1Containing a substance listed in the current version of the International Convention on Psychotropic substances 1971
2Containing a substance listed in the current version of the single Convention on Narcotic drugs
Footnote 2 has the date 1961 in the Arabic version.
Don't accept sweets from strangers
- Remember what your mother always told you about strangers offering sweets and lollies? Well she might have neglected to tell you that it's an especially bad idea to accept them in the UAE where a jail sentence is one possible outcome, 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 a stranger, 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 Lollipop, 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 on 24 Feb 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. ... 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). 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
- 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 tetrahydrocannabinol (marijuana, cannabis, weed) 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 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 newspaper, 25 October 2009).
- A well known cricket player from Pakistan had a googly tossed at him when he 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 Cricket was deported from Dubai on 20 June 2008 after spending 3 weeks in jail. The bewildered cricketer reportedly said during interrogation that he thought it was "A herbal dark substance ..."
- A gentleman 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, he was pardoned later in February 2008.
- A groovy 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, along with over 700 other prisoners who were pardoned, and deported back to the UK on 04 September 2008.
- In July 2006, a music producer from the USA received a 4 year jail sentence 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 Chopsticks 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.
- In 2007 or 2008 a visitor 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 were 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, a visitor 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 or 31 October 2006.
Last update Sunday 15-Dec-2013
- Alcohol in Dubai - what you can and can't drink, where, and when.
- Dubai Code of Conduct drugs - the official Dubai Government guide to drugs (don't have, use, or bring any).
- Duty free allowances Dubai - what you can and cannot bring (besides drugs) to Dubai
- Drugs overseas - jail in Dubai - forum topic about a codeine addict?
- www.detainedindubai.org - a Dubai/UK based group for druggies and other criminals in Dubai, especially issues related to alcohol, bad debts, drugs, sex. They can help find a lawyer and could be one place to start if you find yourself in trouble with the law in the UAE.
- www.fairtrials.net - Fair Trials International - they won't get you out of jail but do have a list of banned and controlled substances for the UAE.
- www.uaeinteract.com/travel/drugs.pdf - the UAE MOH notice about importing drugs into the UAE in Arabic and English. Also available at www.uae-embassy.ae/Editor/drugs.pdf (in English only).
- www.moh.gov.ae - UAE Ministry of Health website. Somewhere there should be a list of banned medicines but the way it's hidden, you'd think they want people to go to jail. Look for the "old website" link, then click on the drop down menu for a list of approved substances. Assume anything not on the list is banned, and that you need a prescription for anything on the list.
- www.uaeprison.com - looking for a cheap room? You can't make hotel bookings through this website but at least you get an idea of the accommodation facilities available. The UAE authorities have blocked access to this site, but only in the UAE, which seems to miss the point of trying to prevent the rest of the world from reading negative information about UAE prisons (most UAE residents have some idea of how unpleasant they are without needing a website to tell them).