‘New drug penal­ties will al­low ad­dicts to get help’

Re­duc­tion in sen­tenc­ing also saves money, say le­gal ex­perts

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Changes to UAE drugs laws will cut the prison pop­u­la­tion, save the gov­ern­ment money and re­duce the num­ber of fam­i­lies robbed of their fa­thers and sons by nar­cotics, le­gal ex­perts have said.

Lawyers were speak­ing af­ter amend­ments to the coun­try’s laws will see judges given the dis­cre­tion to jail those con­victed of drug pos­ses­sion for a min­i­mum of two years in­stead of four, as orig­i­nally laid down un­der the 1995 pe­nal laws.

Drug pos­ses­sion will also be down­graded to a mis­de­meanour in­stead of a felony, though it re­mains un­clear whether con­victs will es­cape de­por­ta­tion, which is cur­rently or­dered in al­most all drug cases.

Un­der the new law, the At­tor­ney Gen­eral will also have the power to send an Emi­rati of­fender to a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre with­out the case go­ing to court. This will be af­ter seek­ing ad­vice from po­lice and pros­e­cu­tors. Com­mu­nity ser­vice is also now an op­tion.

Lead­ing Abu Dhabi crim­i­nal lawyer Ali Al Abadi told 7DAYS that the changes are prag­matic.

He said the gov­ern­ment spends a great deal of money on feed­ing and car­ing for in­mates and some­times their fam­i­lies as well. He also said it could al­low mi­nor of­fend­ers to keep their jobs.

Al Abadi added: “If some­one is jailed for only two years, made to pay a fine or does com­mu­nity work, the gov­ern­ment would cut their ex­pen­di­ture and would re­tain the ser­vices of these peo­ple, as some work for gov­ern­ment de­part­ments. “Drug ad­dicts are spend­ing many years in jail and away from their fam­i­lies, mak­ing their chil­dren suf­fer as a re­sult.”

Al Abadi also sug­gested some users never over­come their habit in jail.

A series of re­cent cases in the Dubai and Abu Dhabi courts have cast light on drug smug­gling in pris­ons.

In April, nine men went on trial at Abu Dhabi Crim­i­nal Court ac­cused of of­fer­ing a guard Dhs20,000 to help them smug­gle hashish and tra­madol, along with mo­bile phones, into Al Wathba Prison.

And last July a car­pen­ter who worked at Dubai Cen­tral Prison in Al Awir was found guilty of smug­gling tra­madol to an Emi­rati ad­dict who was in­side for drug pos­ses­sion.

Al Abadi said: “Jail­ing some­one for a long time doesn’t nec­es­sary mean they will quit drugs.

“But send­ing them to re­hab can help get treat­ment for ad­dic­tion, which can re­form them and help them be­come re­spon­si­ble mem­bers of the com­mu­nity.”

Mo­hammed Rashid Al Dhan­hani, Head of Bani Yas Pros­e­cu­tion in Abu Dhabi, added: “The new law means all cases in­volv­ing the il­le­gal use of drugs will be han­dled by the mis­de­meanour court and not the crim­i­nal court of first in­stance, as the case has been.

“The new law will be im­ple­mented af­ter it has been pub­lished in the of­fi­cial gazette and will ap­ply to only new cases and those that have not reached ver­dict.”

‘If some­one is jailed for two years or does com­mu­nity work, the gov­ern­ment would cut ex­pen­di­ture’ – Crim­i­nal lawyer Ali Al Abadi

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