UAE's very scary drug laws

In January, I posted the news that a young man had been arrested in Dubai for carrying melatonin. This BBC article looks into the story, and serves up some other examples of the draconian drug laws in the United Arab Emirates.


• A Swiss man "is serving a four-year jail term after three poppy seeds from a bread roll he ate at Heathrow airport were found on his clothes."

• A 43-year-old Englishman who had a cigarette stuck to his shoe was sentenced was sentenced to four years in prison for possession of 0.003g of cannabis, which I would imagine is a microscopic amount.

• Customs officers held a woman for eight weeks before she was able to convince authorities that her codeine pills were prescribed by her doctor for back pain.

According to BBC article:

"If they find any amount - no matter how minute - it will be enough to attract a mandatory four-year prison sentence.

"What many travellers may not realise is that they can be deemed to be in possession of such banned substances if they can be detected in their urine or bloodstream, or even in tiny, trace amounts on their person."



  1. I suppose no one HAS to go to the UAEs, but laws and policies as obnoxious and offensive to basic human rights and justice should not go unchallenged.

    A techno boycott is the only way to get their attention. Dubai, for instance, is always in critical need of foreign staff with IT credentials.
    Pass the word; the UAE are NOT SAFE!

  2. After the story about the lady being arrested at the Starbucks in Saudi Arabia for sitting with a male coworker, I have more or less lost all desire to visit that part of the world. No doubt they feel the same way about the US.

    I guess there’s always Israel.

  3. as a crminal defense attorney in Nevada, i can tell you that there are similar statutes and corresponding horror stories here in the USA.

  4. God help us if they ever figure out that most Western money has trace amounts of cocaine and other controlled drugs.

  5. It’s just a tool to arrest whoever they want. They can’t possibly enforce a ban on such small amounts.
    So don’t be shady and suspicious and you won’t get in trouble!

  6. Excuse me? From what we know, these people were tourists and/or just passing through. “Shady and suspicious”? try non-arab and non-connected to the local royal family.

  7. So don’t be shady and suspicious and you won’t get in trouble!

    (scratches head in awed disbelief)

  8. So don’t be shady and suspicious and you won’t get in trouble!

    Oh, I totally agree – the sheer gall of the man, thinking he could wear any kind of hairstyle he wanted, he totally should have had his hair cut short and straightened, and perhaps a good skin lightening treatment, right?

  9. “Oh, I totally agree – the sheer gall of the man, thinking he could wear any kind of hairstyle he wanted, he totally should have had his hair cut short and straightened, and perhaps a good skin lightening treatment, right?”

    Actually a skin darkening treatment would more likely be in order to fit in in the UAE, especially if your referring to the swiss guy.

    The “shady and suspicious” guy has a point, do you think that they care about your inalienable rights in the UAE? Do you think they respect your freedom of expression? You go running around spouting crap like that to them and they’ll happily toss you in jail. If I had to go there I’d stay as far under the radar as I possibly could.

  10. That is a very weird list. Most of the drugs are psychotropic, but it also includes Accutane. Fortunately Vicodin is free and clear, so it’s all good.

  11. If we start listing the inhumane laws of that region and the various violations of human rights, we might never reach the end.

  12. no one expects Dubai to adopt the laws and customs of another land. Everyone does, however, have the right to expect them to give safe conduct to travelers and to not imprison,torture, rape and kill on whims and sheer ignorant carelessness.

    Want to have your countries entire medical drug supply in the hands of corrupt theives? Fine. Just be honest about it so innocents passing though your moral sewer can take steps not to be dirtied by it.

  13. A couple of recent articles have talked about people arrested because urine tests revealed the potential use of banned substances (e.g. the codeine administered by a UAE hospital.) So much for looking at the big silly hotels or doing business with their internet services; I’m not going near the place. Their police are obviously high on testosterone and power, or else they were behind on their arrest quota for the month.

    A couple of years ago I was driving back from the dentist here in the US, and I’m glad I wasn’t stopped for something random. I was clear-headed, but my speech was slurred (becov my mouf wvn’t movn right yet afta da novocaine), and a urine test would have picked up the novocaine (pretty close to cocaine), ibuprofen (false positive for marijuana on common drug tests), sudafed I’d taken to make it easier to breathe during the work (close relative of meth), codeine I’d had the night before the root canal (opiate), and who knows what weird chemicals were in the topical anaestheics. The only actual psychoactive I’d been on was the nitrous oxide, which had worn off before I started driving, and of course caffeine, my favorite dangerous addictive drug, which I’d taken to help wake up after the nitrous. Bad enough to get hit with all that in the US, where you’ve got a chance of arguing your case; I’d really hate to have to get dentistry in the UAE.

    I much prefer the attitude of the customs people in Jordan. We got off the ferry boat, and while our bags got inspected in the foreigners, line, the lines for the locals were a pair of long tables, and in the middle was a stack of confiscated materials, mostly videotapes and hash. The customs people didn’t appear to be hassling anybody they took stuff from, and presumably they followed the traditional practice in such places and took the contraband home to sell or use it themselves.

  14. A country where everyone has to think like an Olympic athlete. Will this breath mint make me test positive for some banned substance? That’s got to be nerve-wracking.

  15. all you have to think about all the time is royal court politics. Stay on the winning side and you can do anything at all.

  16. …Yet more reasons the US needs to just carpet bomb the entire Middle East and eradicate such draconian bullshit once and for all. Barring something that deservedly drastic, we simply inform the governments of these turd-world countries the same thing that Mexico forces on us: if they’re a citizen of our country and they’re accused of a crime, then send them home, period.

  17. from the Secret Dubai Diary Blog;
    ‘What makes this particularly galling is the prevalent drug use among Dubai sheikhs. If the royal families were all squeaky clean, it might not be so hypocritical. But when we all well know of various junkie and ex-junkie emirati princes, it more than sticks in the craw that the Dishdashes-That-Be can’t sort out their antiquated, draconian, inegalitarian and simply unjust legal system.”

  18. at #3: Weirdly enough, I was just chatting to someone about Isareli flight security measures. She reckoned that after the profiling, the two hour compulsory (and harsh) interview with Isreali security forces and the other measures that would have Americans (and people from other “developed” nations) crying “invasion of privacy and personal rights”, she felt “really safe”.

    No, I wouldn’t voluntarily go to Israel. That’s something you’ve really gotta want to do, either out of Jewish nationalism or the desire to see the “holy land”.

  19. #26
    “accused” is not “guilty”.

    I also see the carpet bombing to date is largely responsible for this state of affairs in the first place.

  20. I also see the carpet bombing to date is largely responsible for this state of affairs in the first place.

    There are few countries in the region whose governments we didn’t hand pick. Then we bomb them. Then we pick new ones. Then we bomb them. It does go on a bit, doesn’t it?

  21. @28
    and what made it tolerable was the competence and patently reasonable method to it all? As opposed to be being randomly bullied by obvious idiots?

  22. “If they find any amount – no matter how minute – it will be enough to attract a mandatory four-year prison sentence.”
    As I read this, I have a rerun of “CSI: Las Vegas” playing in the background. A character proceeds to explain how most money in the US has trace amounts of cocaine on it. So, any person who goes to the UAE with US cash can do four years in prison. This makes that counterfeit money from Iran look like a safer choice.
    (I get all my science from “CSI: Las Vegas”)

  23. It is time, perhaps, to reflect again on several of The Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth by Anton Szandor LaVey ©1967. (courtesy of Takuan)

    3. When in another’s lair, show him respect or else do not go there.

    4. If a guest in your lair annoys you, treat him cruelly and without mercy.

    8. Do not complain about anything to which you need not subject yourself.

    Or, in other words, it’s their country. Don’t go. If they’re at all dependent on foreign traffic, they’ll change the laws. If not, there are plenty of other sheikdoms to visit.

  24. yep, but don’t expect them to change the laws until they know there is a problem with them.


  25. @33 : It’s their country? Whose? and says who? The majority of the UAEs residents are not considered citizens by their laws. Not even if you’re born there, and live there your whole life. Of the small percentage even considered citizens, only a small percentage of them are royals, and have all the political power.
    Hey, the sultan is throwing people in jail for long times for little reason, but who are we to care, it’s his country. After all, he said so!

  26. Sorry, Takuan, I’m afraid that middle east troubles actually pre-date the existence of America. Interesting factoid: the U.S. Navy was first formed to help combat middle eastern attacks on American trade ships.

  27. Two Short,

    You raise an interesting point. I was researching male to female ratios for some other gobbet of snark, and I discovered that some of the Gulf States are 70% men because such a gigantic chunk of the population consists of male ‘guest workers’. Plus, if you believe in Pan-Arabism, these countries are completely bogus anyway. But what makes for a legitimate country anyway? The Middle-East, much of Africa, some of Southern Europe, vast chunks of Asia were divvied up in the aftermath of WWI. Half of that has changed since the break-up of the USSR, Yugoslavia, etc. Maps are highly mutable. The UAE has as much or as little legitimacy as many other states, and lasting change will come from within, not from carpet bombing.

  28. Antinous: But what makes for a legitimate country anyway?

    If you ask me (and you did), broad un-coerced consensus that the government is legitimate amongst those who live there. The various historical accidents that created the borders are irrelevant. And, yes, I realize by this standard an awful lot of countries in the world are illegitimate.

    I certainly don’t advocate carpet-bombing; but there’s a big gulf between that and not criticizing the emirs because “It’s their country”.

    There are some states with as little legitimacy as the UAE, but not many. The being able to be born, live your life, and die there entirely as a non-citizen “guest worker” really puts them over the top compared to your other, run-of-the-mill oppressive dictatorships.

  29. Is Japan a “legitimate state”? It is possible to be born there,live your life and die there and never be a citizen. What this is about is how you treat people. Even if they don’t want to acknowledge any international standards of human rights, all they have to do is REFRAIN from abusing people.

    What makes Dubai’s actions so utterly contemptible is that they destroy peoples lives just because they don’t care. No one in Dubai is being injured in any way by these ridiculous “crimes”. Not even the drug concessionaires.

    The pity is the Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum probably hasn’t a clue as to the existence of these cases and won’t be told by the cowards that serve him. You can also certainly bet that no one is going to tell him of the repercussions in getting qualified people to work in Dubai.

  30. Yet more reasons the US needs to just carpet bomb the entire Middle East and eradicate such draconian bullshit once and for all.

    You haven’t been paying attention to our own War on Drugs. But I guess doing so would force you to confront your own deep seated prejudices, so never mind.

  31. From what I heard on NPR this morning, some one was arrested for having poppy seeds (from a roll) on his clothing? What in the…? What a nut farm.

  32. The problem with this is false positives. You could probably get 3 micrograms of cannabis on your clothes just by sitting in the same bus / taxi / airplane seat as someone who’d smoked that drug earlier in the day. It’s practically invisible to the naked eye.

    People can smoke cannabis legally in Holland, some places allow it on prescription, other places don’t get too uptight about it because the police have better things to do with their time than chase small-time drug users. Going through an airport you’re going to be exposed to traces of drugs.

    It’s quite likely the man just dressed or acted `inappropriately’ when he turned up at the airport in Saudi Arabia, and the police said “we don’t like the look of this one” and then perhaps ran, perhaps fabricated some test results to justify their opinion.

    How many people have been exonerated by these “drugs tests”?

  33. This is a pretty obvious shakedown. The only problem is that the people being arrested don’t know the right people to bribe, and the people busting them are so dumb as to not realize it.

    The UAE is corrupt. Bribe the right people, and most “crimes” can be forgiven. Look, if you’re going to travel internationally to unsafe places like these, find out what to do when busted before you go there, or just stay home. And if you do go, factor the cost of bribing your way out of a shakedown into whatever you’re getting paid. And get that in advance. Or make sure your corporate sponsor has enough clout to keep you safe.

  34. better be careful with that advice. Bribery is not a tool for children or fools. Having a competent sponsor is a good idea,but how are you supposed to judge?

    I think Dubai is so rich overall that the motive for harassing travelers is payback for years of western abuse.

  35. I’m totally shocked by this. What kind of leniencies did they give all the X-Game participants? Sounds like it would be the largest blind eye on earth (at least it goes along with all their other “largest on earth” projects).

    On a semi-unrelated note, Congress and the MLB should check out that list of “Restricted and Controlled Drugs.”

    One last point; As a Jew living in Israel, the article about segregation on a Jerusalem bus makes me want to vomit. All the more reason to live in Tel-Aviv. (Sorry about being off topic)

  36. I highly doubt Swedish drug law enforcement practices resemble the travesty found in Dubai.

    The issue here is not whether drugs are illegal in Dubai. They are. That is their business. If their law states blood traces are “possession”, they are.

    The issue is: innocent people are being jailed.

  37. Ah-ehm. The UAE is the place where if ten local thugs abduct you foreigner and take turns at sodomizing you in a dark alley, YOU foreigner go to prison for “being an homosexual” and they are released without any charge.

    I’d resign from the job if my company ordered me to go work there.

  38. why I will never be prezidint of the United States:

    “Oh, hello Mr. UAE. How are you doing today? Yes, yes, oh very well. Thank you for asking. Oh, and thank you for the fruit basket, it was ever so thoughtful of you. Now, I was just calling to find out about–oh, yes. Okay, so you already know. Uh-huh? Is that a fact? Well, I’ll be. Don’t you think that’s a bit of a…well…a crime against humanity? No? OK, well, I’m sorry to do this, but I’m going to have to ask that all of your emissaries leave our country at once. What’s that? No, I’m sorry, but I really must insist. Oh, and consider all of our economic ties severed, as of today. I–I’m sorry, Mr. UAE. I can’t understand what you’re–I’m sorry, there seems to be some static on the–” (rolling cellophane near the mouthpiece) “I said, some static on the–” *click!*

    Repeat for every other filthy swine monarchy with their backwards f*ed up laws. Oh, and China. Sure, gas will go to 15.00 a gallon and the price of goods will soar, but probably only temporarily, because we’re still the biggest market for the world’s crap, and something tells me economics could be wielded in such a way as to get these states to see the light on human rights in a jiffy.

    Of course, for this to work, we’d have to be blameless ourselves, Guantanamo. (reason #2 why I’ll never be prezidint.)

  39. In college, a Saudi guy who lived next door to me used to drink and whore around, then excuse it by saying that “Mecca is on the other side of the planet, so Allah isn’t looking over here”.

  40. There’s a thriving business in the US of providing liver transplants to Saudis with cirrhosis. I think that the Saudi government actually foots the bill. It’s enough of a moneymaker to subsidize transplants for some poor Americans.

  41. Maybe they don’t want visitors that lack a minimum amount of wealth?

    Obviously, this isn’t about drugs. A friend of mine did business in Dubai, fairly recently, and managed to finalize a several hundred million dollar deal for his company with local bigshots, and after the deal and the lovely dinner they sat down to smoke hashish from the big hookah. My friend had a hard time with that part since he’s the successful uptight businessman type, ironically. He said he got utterly wasted on that hash…

    Being mad at UAE’s gov’t is pointless. It’s a political puppet show. Thirty years ago, National Geographic would’ve been the source for news from that area. Now, it’s an artificial steel-and-plastic paradise. How… kitschy. Give the region thirty more years and it’ll be back to being merely an anthropological curiosity, just like the USA will probably be as well.

  42. @Takuan (#50)

    Actually, in the twisted world of the War on Drugs, Sweden *could* actually be in the same league as Dubai for an Orwellian “zero tolerance” approach to drug prohibition.

    The ban on “internal possession” of drugs mentioned by Binolini (#49) is enforced in Sweden by undercovers going into nightclubs and detaining anyone they suspect might be under the influence of drugs (powder drugs and ecstacy especially), forcing them to undergo an immediate urine test, and if positive, immediately committing the violator to involuntary treatment most likely in an offshore island run by a crypto-racist private “tough love” type reeducation contractor (the Hassela Nordic Network). It’s a common misperception that Swedes are liberal about drugs, like the Dutch. Liberal about sex and rock and roll, maybe. Drugs, not so much.

    Drug prohibition is universal — required by a UN treaty lobbied for by the US in 1960. In most of the world, enforcement is benign, but to totalitarian and repressive regimes, including the US, Sweden, Dubai, China, Thailand and Russia in particular, drug laws are a handy means for allowing arbitrary police and military action and for unfair “Jim Crow” and population control laws.

    And the ion scanners used in Dubai to detect minute levels of drugs are commonly used to test families of prisoners who wish to visit inmates in US federal prisons. Those who fail this “one molecule” test are commonly barred from visitation, although they may have traveled hours in a bus to get to the faraway rural prisons. (Yes, smuggling drugs is the cited reason, but as the Dubai article notes, the small detection limits are troublesome…more drugs are smuggled in by prison guards and workers).

  43. Agerblic: This will continue until more people like you ride those segregated buses and stand up for women who are being told to move.

    If you’ve got a wife or female friend, get her to sit up front and watch to make sure nobody harasses her. If you don’t, sit in the back in the women’s section just to muddy the waters.

    It’s too small of a society to eat itself like that, those bus-beaters are doing more to destroy Israel than the terrorists could.

  44. Some jerk throws his butt on the floor of the airport terminal, you step on it- four years in jail! Nothing to do w shadiness

  45. Just to add something that makes some sense and is verfiable. From the U.S. Department of State International Narcotics Control Strategy Report: Volume I: Drug and Chemical Control…

    “The UAE’s Federal Supreme Court issued an important ruling in 2003 regarding proof that drug-offenders actually consume drugs in the UAE before they can be prosecuted. The Supreme Court decided that UAE law enforcement officials could not prosecute drug-users if the consumption took place in another country. A positive blood test for drugs is considered evidence of consumption, but does not determine whether the drug-taking occurred in the UAE or abroad.”

    Doesn’t mean that bizarre things might not happen but good chance they won’t be horror stories.

  46. Right….

    I live in the UAE and have done for 5 years now. Before here i have lived in Qatar, Oman and Saudi. I could NOT ask for a better childhood to be honest.
    My friends in UK don’t go to the beach everyday, go out clubbing/drinking/eating or even get around by cab so cheaply. Also i never have any trouble with the police and i have never had a brush with crime such as drugs/mugging etc. You cant base your judgement on the area on cases such as these. I havent thought twice about being a ‘drug smuggler’, i’ve probably had poppy seeds all over me. But because I’m a average looking british girl I dont draw as much attention to myself as the international famous DJ Grooverider for example, who produces drum n bass music – typical associations with drugs there so shock horror he had a bunch of pills and some weed alongside him and is currently waiting for trial. Or someone who has crazy style or pink hair and piercings. I’m not generalising and id love to have pink hair and piercings myself, but this country just isnt used to such extreme images and they do stereotype ‘different’ looking people with trouble, much like my Gran would walking down an english high street looking at all the teens. Its not a repressive society, its just not used to people with expressive images yet, however you’ll find them in the malls here – just not arriving in the airport.
    All UAE wants to do is have a perfect lifestyle, and its working! OK its not quite up-to-date on the social side of things, but it is a muslim country and they go by islamic law here, deal with it. They’re very leniant letting us expats drink and whatnot here, clubbing’s brilliant!
    These cases are rare though, and these people who have been arrested are ‘random’ checks because they’ve probably looked suspicious somehow. Considering the THOUSANDS of people that come into dubai every week, these 40 or so cases arent frequent.

    Just show the country some respect and it will give it back equally. What you cant buy here dont bring in. Are you really going to find sex shops here? No, then dont bring in porn [yes thats another nono]. These drugs cases are ridiculous, I agree. But they’re not doing it to purposefully target innocent tourists, they do it to show examples as they dont want Dubai to be like most citys in the world. Theres no drug scene here, hardly any crime, and its the only places I’ve truly felt safe having a walk at 4am.

    Just wanted to have my say as it annoys me when people in other countries are so ignorant to the non-CNN lifestyle over here. When was the last time your country made THREE palm tree islands, tallest building in the world and a 7* hotel plus a ridiculous amount of other enterprises within the past 5 years? Its a fast developing city, and the attitudes will change over time. But for now just leave them and their laws as its a safe environment and thats what they want. Just check your luggage, have your prescription/doctors note, act normal and dont get a direct flight from Amsterdam! :)

  47. I agree with REO i have been to dubai numerous times. and it is very westernized. everything you have here is there and more. now if your whole intent is to go there for drugs well you should go to amsterdam instead, but they treat americans very well there and alot of the people in dubai are from UK austrialia, and europe and from the US.
    just because you hear it is a muslim country everyone gets nightmares. The U.A.E is one of the most lienent arab countries. it has great shopping and sites, and even the locals emerites dont expect you to walk and act like they do.
    so before you go on and trash a place, maybe you should experience it first.

    and actually i believe alot of the horror stories you heard are probably myths, or the person gave the locals problems.
    and by the way if you do get a job there and dont want it, ill take it!

  48. People in this country just don’t get it! If you go and visit any country, you are subject to their laws, regardless how rediculous or unjust or draconian they are. There are many countries in the world have similar drug laws. Singapore is a great example. Because of their strict drug laws and swift justice, they manage to keep drug problems very low. If you are convicted for drug trafficking, you will die!

    Before you visit one of those “not so friendly” countries, you should do some due dillengence and learn a little about their laws. You can get all that information from the US state department. Also remember, the US is supporting many of these not so friendly countries, using your hard earned money to do it. I don’t like it either, but I can’t do anything about it.

    In my years working for large high tech companies I have travelled to many countries all over the world and never had any problem getting in or leaving it. This included China, Russia, and former Eastern Block countries as well as many banana republics. I usually don’t make myself very conspicous when I am there. Above all, I don’t flash my US passport and demand my rights because “I am a US citizen” as many idiots have done. I survived two coup attempts in Caracas and Sir Lanka. Thank God for that.

  49. I was in Dubai in March 2001. I am a corporate meeting planner and was carrying a suitcase loaded with walkie-talkies. As soon as I got into customs I was taken into custody. Not really arrested, just moved to the police area and questioned. My co-workers could only watch as I was taken away. They could see me through a glass wall. That made me feel better. I told them to take the walkie-talkies, if that made them feel better. Thank God they did, and just let me go. I was able to pick up the walkie-talkies on my way out of the country.

    I have to say I loved Dubai and I look forward to returning there. Albeit, after reading these posts, I will keep my suitcases CLEAN, my urine pure for a week AND my head down!

    Take care!

  50. i moved to Dubai to be with my partner 8 months ago.
    my partner and i travelled to Amsterdam for the sensation white party.
    we went on a five day bender, hash, coke, weed, speed, e’s, magic mushrooms… you get the drift.
    when we arrived in Dubai our luggage was taken to be checked overnight.
    we left the airport and went back the next day to pick it up.
    opening up the luggage at home, it was clear that they searched everything and inside everything, my makeup bag was a mess.
    but that’s all that happened.

    now, i do have crazy hair and piercings and i did take a direct flight to and from Amsterdam.

    so…. looking shady and suspicious …

    when we arrived i looked like hell! no sleep for 4 days and with the come down shakes and jitters.

    so, what i’m trying to say is the way you look, or where you came from has nothing to do with it.

    it seriously must be random.

  51. “random.How reassuring.”

    of course it’s not reassuring, the whole law stinks.

    i don’t do any drugs in Dubai, i do abide by their laws.

    but i don’t understand that if i did do drugs outside their country how can i be punished for it by them?

    they call it possession of a controlled substance or whatever… cause its in my urine.

    ok it’s in my urine, but that’s as far as it’s going to go, it’s not like i can piss on a plate dry it up, cut it with this or that and then sell it at the club.

    and by the way i didn’t even know that i could get into trouble for having it in my urine.

  52. Is this the same Dubai that’s basing their post-oil economic future on tourism and becoming an international corporate business hub? Ok, off to a good start.

    Highlights Dubai Strategic Plan 2015
    Page 37
    Strategic Thrusts

    In order to achieve the aims for Security, Justice and Safety, the following strategic thrusts will be pursed:

    Item 2 – Protect Rights and Freedoms
    – Enhance transparency within the security sector.

    That’s all folks.

  53. Tak, Foetusnail, you might have a look at the last few poster’s histories. Lotta first-time posters speaking up for UAE, allasudden! Hmm….

  54. I lived in Dubai for 10 years between 1991 and 2001. I never had any problems with police. Mostly we just used to get beat up by the local Arab boys in the neighbourhood (when me and my mate were out numbered). In my late teens all we did was drink ourselves into a stupor and cause havoc. Spent the night in a jail in the middle of the desert once for underage drunk driving without a licence. Wasn’t too much trouble. I would stay well clear of drugs there though. You just have to abide by some pretty general rules but you can get away with a lot. This does not mean however, that I agree with their appalling hypocricy and corrupt legal system.

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