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Application of Article 96 of the UAE's Anti-Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances Law

The following article provides an overview of the application of Article 96 of the UAE's Anti-Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances Law, as it relates to food, beverages, or products containing narcotics brought in by tourists/visitors to the United Arab Emirates.

The Federal Decree-Law No. 30 of 2021 on Combating Narcotic Drugs in the UAE introduced Article 96, which deals with importation of narcotics and psychotropic substances from abroad into the United Arab Emirates and the exceptions of absolving the act as a non-punishable offense under the law.

From reading the text of Article 96 it becomes apparent that the UAE legislator has established specific conditions upon fulfilment of which the court may treat an offence as an exception under the said article of law, such as:

First condition: The visitor's possession of such substances must be their first offense in this regard.

In terms of establishing such a condition it is easily verifiable or disprovable through the electronic system of the UAE police or the public prosecutor's office.

Second condition: The substances seized must be intended for personal use or consumption.

Nonetheless, the challenge in considering such a condition lies in how well to establish the fact that the substances seized from the traveler are for personal use. According to the precedents set through judgments issued by the Supreme Court in the United Arab Emirates, such decision is reliant upon the discretionary power of the court. The court may, for instance, take into consideration the quantity of the seized substances for e.g., personal use typically does not involve possession of large quantities.

Third condition: The substances seized must fall within the substances or psychotropic agents listed in Item (29) of Table (1), Item (8) of the second section of Table (4), Item (34) of Table (5), and Item (4) of Table (6) as specified in the Decree-Law.

It's important to note that not all types of narcotics fall under the purview of Article 96. This article specifies the particular substances it applies to, and these are outlined in the schedule of narcotic and psychotropic substances attached to the law.

Among the most well-known narcotics mentioned in Article 96 are cannabis and its derivatives. The nature of the seized narcotics found in the possession of the traveler is typically determined through the forensic laboratory report, to which the confiscated substances are sent for analysis.

Fourth condition: The substances seized must be mixed in food, beverages, or any products brought from abroad by the visitor.

Consideration of such a condition may further be subject to existence of other pre-conditions such as below: 

     i) Demonstrating that the substances found in the possession of the traveler are processed products and not handmade concoctions. For instance, if a traveler personally mixes any food, beverage, or product (such as e-cigarette oil) with a narcotic substance, Article 96 does not apply. The substances mentioned in Article 96 pertain solely to products that are manufactured by companies or factories and inherently contain narcotics or psychotropic substances that cannot be separated from the product later.

Nonetheless, proving this aspect can be highly challenging. Travelers may need to provide evidence of where they purchased such a product from, and it ultimately falls under the discretionary power of the court to consider this evidence or not.

     ii) Demonstrating that the narcotic substances are an integral part of the product and that it cannot be separated from it.

However, the court cannot determine such matters on its own and it must rely on a specialized technical expert’s report as without being backed up by a specialized report, the court's verdict (whether acquittal or conviction) would be considered incorrect as per the general principle of law firmly established through the judgments of the highest courts (Cassation and Appeal) within the United Arab Emirates. 

Although, the challenge here lies in the need for specialized technical experts and apparatus that may not always be readily available which may lead the court to apply the well-established legal principle that any benefit of doubts should be resolved in favor of the accused.

This is not to be confused with diminishing attitude towards drug use, which is still a criminal offence and the penalties for those that continue to break the relevant law continue to be stringent. In fact, individuals connected with trafficking narcotic and psychotropic substances now face stricter penalties than before.

This article was written by litigation lawyer Hassan El Shahat Mohamed, and advocate Shamma Alkindi and focuses on the UAE's Anti-Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances Law.

BSA is a regional Law Firm in the Middle East with offices in the UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia. As a full-service law firm our practice areas include litigation, arbitration and corporate services, including M&A, banking & finance, Intellectual Property, TMT, Fintech, employment and insurance.

Published on 25 September, 2023.

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