Laws governing the Control of Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances in UAE


In today’s world, the word ‘drugs’ carry a negative connotation for obvious reasons like how it has adversely affected many young lives and ruined their bright future. Drug addiction is turning out to be a serious social peril; while on the other side, curbing the illegal distribution or smuggling of drugs is a challenging issue all across the world. Many people, especially youngsters, fall as a prey to drugs for various reasons like, to overcome the depressing thoughts, to get relieved from stress and anxiety, to fit into the social trends of rave culture and nightlife, or to experience a certain kind of euphoria or ecstasy, or out of curiosity, among others. However, on the contrary to the negative interpretation of the word drugs: drugs are but mere chemical compounds, which, when ingested by any person or injected into any body, can induce a certain kind of physical or psychological effect.

Consumption of drugs in itself is not illegal or detrimental to one’s mental and physical health, as long as taken in right proportions for valid reasons and as prescribed by a competent person in line with the laws governing the supply of drugs. For instance, the drug marijuana which falls under the category of controlled substances or in some places under banned substances, has the components to treat cancer. However, marijuana can be addictive as it also carries psychoactive chemical substances which can induce a certain kind of high in people and excessive consumption of this drug can also lead to psychotic disorders.


In the United States, use, possession, prescription or selling of the marijuana drug is illegal as per the federal law. However, the use of marijuana to treat certain medical conditions is legally permitted under various state laws. Nightlife in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as fascinating as it could be, can turn out to be a pitfall for many youngsters, as they are exposed to unwanted addictions like, smoking, drugs, alcoholism, among other harmful activities. The government of the UAE has time-to-time taken stringent measures to combat the illegal consumption and distribution of drugs to the extent where it has the least tolerance even when it comes to entertaining the usage of recreational drugs. 


UAE’s Ministry of Health and Prevention has been striving to maintain the safety and security of the nation and its youth by constantly taking the necessary precautions and steps required to monitor the narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. Accordingly, in the year 2016, the UAE government has introduced Federal Law Number 8 of 2016 on the Control of Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances (the Drugs Law), amending the initial provisions on narcotic and psychotropic substances encompassed in Federal Law Number 14 of 1995. One of the striking amendments contained in the Drugs Law was, going easy on the drug abuser by reducing the period of imprisonment from four (4) years to two (2) years and imposing a penalty of UAE Dirhams ten thousand (AED 10,000). 

Apart from that, article 43 of the Drugs Law further states that, any abuser of narcotic or psychotropic substances, if deliberately surrenders themselves or is surrendered by any one of his loved ones or close people to the addiction treatment unit, or to the police, or public prosecutor shall be exempted from any kind of criminal proceedings. These provisions were introduced with a motive to accommodate the drug abusers in a manner to provide them with the necessary help to recover from this deadly addiction and ensure that they gain back a life free from these life destroying addictions; as opposed to blocking the option of recovery for the drug addicts who are willing to be free from this addiction. However, the drug traffickers, drug dealers or possessors, or regular drug offenders are not exempted by the Drugs Law from facing severe punishments. 

Some of the important provisions of the Drugs Law governing the illicit consumption, possession, usage, trade and manufacture are as follows: Article 6 and 7 of the Drugs Law explicitly prohibits manufacture, production, obtainment, possession, use, import, export and extraction of all the narcotics and psychotropic substances specified in the provisions of this law; unless such actions are done as approved or directed by a competent authority. 

Scientific research on any drug substance mentioned in the law is permissible, as long as it is done by the expert scientific team, as approved by the decision of the competent authority. In the cases, where the possession or obtainment of any restricted drug is approved or authorized, then, the weight proportion of such drug shall not be more than as specified in the pharmacopoeias. 


Article 11 of the Drugs Law provides with the list of the people who are authorized to grant such approvals or permits with regards to any of the activities related to the specified drugs prohibited by this law as:


Article 12 states the persons who are restricted from availing the permission to carry out the activities with regards to the drugs mentioned in the provisions of this law as:


Import and export shall be conducted as approved by the competent authorities and such actions shall be duly registered with all the essential details by the administrative authority. Articles 17 to 23 of the Drugs Law covers the provisions governing the trafficking of narcotic or psychotropic substances, in which it clearly states that trafficking of drugs or selling of the trafficked drugs is only permissible on obtaining permits from the licensed parties to do so or to the parties permitted by law to involve in such trade. Chapter 3 and 4 of the Drugs Law deals with the provisions regulating the pharmacies with respect to supply of drugs and production or manufacture of the narcotic or psychotropic substances. The pharmacies are obligated to not supply any of the narcotic or psychotropic substances to any person in the absence of a valid prescription from the licensed medical practitioner who is eligible to do so. 


Further, it states that the medical prescription containing the narcotic drugs shall be registered by the pharmacist. The pharmacist is also not allowed to supply the drugs in cases where the prescription contains the proportion of drug in excess to the proportion of drug that is allowed by the provisions of this law. However, where necessary, the medical practitioner may obtain permission from the administrative authority to allow the supply of the drug which is excess in proportion to what is permissible by law to the patient. 


Similarly, the production, extraction, manufacture of the narcotic or psychotropic drugs can be carried out by persons licensed to do so or on obtaining the permission from the competent authority to do so. In a nutshell, all the activities containing the elements of narcotic or psychotropic substances can be conducted or carried on by the licensed parties or on acquiring permissions from the relevant authorities to do so, provided they observe the rules specified by this law while carrying out such activities. The provisions of the Drugs Law are very uncompromising when it comes to the plants which can produce or yield the narcotic or psychotropic substances as cultivation, import, export, possession, use of such plants are strictly prohibited; with an exception to the governmental authorities and accredited scientific institutes as authorized by the Minister of Climate Change and Environment to do so. 


Offenses and Penalties: 


Drug offenders or possessors: 


Inducement or Enticement:


However, the above stated penalties are not exhaustive as the Drugs Law contains several wide ranges of offences involving the narcotic or psychotropic substances. The offences specified in the Drugs Law shall be discussed in detail in another article. 


Treatment Units: 

Article 4 states that specialized units to treat, nurse and rehabilitate the drug addicts are to be established by the Ministry of Health and Prevention. Accordingly, article 41 of the Drugs Law provides provisions where a drug addict can be referred by the courts to the treatment units, rehabilitation centers, or be imposed with only a minimum fine UAE Dirhams ten thousand (AED 10,000) instead of being penalized, on consulting the supervising committee. The supervising committee is obligated to send a report of the convict’s condition every six (6) months. The convict can be confined in the treatment units or rehabilitation for a maximum period of two (2) years. As mentioned above, criminal proceedings are not instituted against any person who willfully surrenders themselves or is surrendered by any one of his close people to the treatment units, police or public prosecutor. Where the drug abuser fails to cooperate with the treatment unit in any manner, the detaining organization may request the public prosecutor to initiate criminal proceedings against such drug abuser.


In Cassation Number 269 of 2018: 

the appellant raised objection as to the manner in which the urine sample was collected and used as evidence against him to convict the appellant of drug abuse. However, despite the fact that the urine sample was collected while the appellant was in abnormal state; thereafter, on examining the urine sample, it has been established that the appellant has consumed the narcotic drug ‘tramadol’. The Court of Cassation dismissed the plea of the appellant raising objection as to the manner in which such urine sample was collected, by stating that the objection is considered as a mere substantive disagreement within the authority of the trial court in deriving such evidence and that the presence of narcotic substance in his urine sample is enough to dismiss the plea of the appellant.


In Cassation Number 306 of 2018:

In this following case, the Judge of the Court of Cassation exercises his authority to modify the legal characterization of crime from importing psychotropic substances by mistake to the crime of possession of such substance for the purpose of abuse, based on the substantial evidences present to support the crime of possession of such substance with an intention to abuse. In most cases ruled by the UAE courts, a person can be convicted of the offence of any of the crimes of narcotic and psychotropic as long as strong evidence is presented before the court proving the intentions of the person convicted of such crime. Drug trafficking can attract severe punishments in the UAE, and the defense of non-consumption of the drugs in cases of drug trafficking shall not stand. Apart from the Drugs Law, the Federal Law Number 4 of 1983 concerning the Pharmacy Profession and Pharmaceutical Institutions (the Pharmaceutical Law), regulates the supply or trade or import and export, carrying of medicines containing controlled substances like the narcotic drugs. 

The UAE government has taken all the necessary steps to strictly regulate the illegal use of distribution of the narcotic or psychotropic substances. UAE being a member to several conventions on narcotic and psychotropic substances, has incorporated provisions accommodating the aims of such convention, such as making the narcotic and psychotropic substance available only for medicinal or scientific purposes, preventing facilitation of illicit trade and eliminating the drug trafficking and abu