An update to the UAE's anti-narcotics law late last year reduced sentences for drug offenders and made rehab stints a more viable option for addicts.
Drugs law changes shifted focus to rehabilitation rather than punishment
The federal anti-narcotics law was changed late last year so that the mandatory four-year jail sentence for drug possession was reduced to two.
Changes also included power given to judges to send a drug offender for treatment rather than a court date. Options for first-time offenders now include sending them to a rehabilitation centre, giving them a maximum fine of Dh10,000, or community service.
President Sheikh Khalifa issued the update to the original 1995 law and it now means that drug use is no longer a felony.
If a drug user is handed over by their family to a rehabilitation centre, police or prosecutors, they face no penalty and will remain in treatment until the centre decides they can be released. Previously this was only the case if the drug user turned themselves in.
No figures are available for the overall number of drug addicts in the UAE but the increase in drugs seizures gives some indication of the growing problem.
The number of narcotic pills seized in the UAE rose by nearly 290 per cent, from 11 million in 2015 to 42.5 million last year.
In March, the head of anti-narcotics at the Ministry of Interior, Lt Col Saeed Al Suwaidi, said the production of Captagon and crystal methamphetamine in the GCC had gone through the roof in recent years because of political turmoil and security challenges that created loopholes in which criminals flourish.
“The number of people arrested [in the UAE] in relation to drugs – smugglers and users – rose from 173 in 2015 to 391 in 2016, so there is a clear targeting of the Gulf. It’s a challenge we are enduring,” he said.