Of all the regions in the world, the Middle East is the most unlikely to consider drug law reform. But drug law reform is an unpredictable process and it can rear it’s head in the most unexpected places.
Most of the countries with tough drug laws tend to have large a religious population with Islamic countries leading the way. Although The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is more liberal than surrounding countries, it is still primarily run by Islamic rules including the co-existence of Sharia law with a more modern civil law jurisdiction. But unlike many of it’s neighbours, the UAE tolerates alcohol and has committed to a robust human rights agenda. Other religions apart from Islam are also tolerated giving the country a harmonious multicultural setting with little public conflict between the various faiths.
Although the UAE may be open to western influences, it is still a far cry from highly democratic countries like Australia, the US and the UK. This makes the decision to investigate drug law reforms - that basically decriminalise drugs - even more significant.
A drug addict is a sick person and he should be treated as such
-Brigadier General Maktoum al Sharifi: Head of Abu Dhabi Capital Police
You have to wonder why the UAE, who like surrounding nations have severe penalties for drug related crimes, would even consider these new reforms. Especially when other open, fully democratic and secular countries like Australia, remain fixated on useless, failed and cruel drug polices, dreamed up many decades ago.
Current drug laws in the UAE are harsh and counterproductive and there is a mandatory four year prison term for anyone found to have a connection with illicit drugs. But many officials in the UAE agree that the current laws are flawed. The Chief Justice of Abu Dhabi Criminal Court of First Instance, Saeed Abdul Baseer, said that he would prefer to send patients to rehabilitation centres or give them lesser sentences, but that he was restricted by the law.
I would be very happy to give them lesser sentence or send them to rehabilitation centres. It is not an easy thing to sentence a young offender to four years in prison. But I have to follow the law.
--Saeed Abdul Baseer: Chief Justice of Abu Dhabi Criminal Court.
Hopefully, drug law reform will happen in the near future and serve as a reminder to other governments that rubber stamping failed drug policies, year after year, not only cause more problems than it fixes but is pointless and inhumane. There are alternatives to punitive drug laws which are based on evidence and research and it is the role of elected governments to implement these policies if it’s beneficial to their constituents. Unfortunately, politics is a fickle game with many players more focussed on winning the popularity prize instead of maintaining a fair, civil society for the benefit of all.
When countries like the UAE - that traditionally support Zero Tolerance drug policies - start contemplating the removal of strict drug laws because they are flawed and inhumane, you know that global attitudes are changing. But when the proposed changes are backed up with evidence and research, it should put enormous pressure on other countries to follow suit especially considering the massive damage caused every day by existing laws.
Those still calling out for tougher drug laws really need to be questioned about their motives. Locally, we are witnessing a surge in politicians who are implementing even more draconian drug laws without sufficient scrutiny from opposition political parties and the media. But what is most disturbing about this current push for tougher drug laws are the reasons used by our elected politicians to support their case. To put it bluntly, they are mostly using misinformation, popular myths and outright lies in their attempts to fool the public. Where’s the scrutiny and the demands to reveal their source of information? Why isn’t the media asking them to explain why their claims are contradictory to the latest research and evidence? The fact is that most claims by politicians who are pushing for tougher drug laws are wrong and this helps to keep the public misguided about effective solutions. Previous propaganda masters like Chris Pyne, John Howard, Bronwyn Bishop etc. are being joined by Mike Rann, Colin Barnett and Ted Ballieu as part of a deceitful, agenda driven group who are prepared to mislead the public about drugs. It’s incredibly frustrating to hear elected officials like Michael Mischin, Christian Porter, John Brumby, Michael Atkinson, Steve Fielding, Peter Debnam, Nicola Roxon, Andrew Stoner, Mary Wooldridge, Peter Wellington, Mark McArdle, Michael Wright etc. make unsubstantiated claims when it would only take 15 minutes on the internet to find the facts. No other issue has ever attracted so many people who are willing to publicly lie even though the truth is just a few clicks away via Google. It may have worked before the advent of the internet but the ability to check facts almost instantly, should pressure politicians to substantiate their claims before they are exposed as frauds. If only other politicians and the media would be brave enough to expose them.
Overhaul Of UAE Drug Laws Considered
Haneen Dajani and Hassan Hassan (Courts and Justice Reporter)
ABU DHABI // An overhaul of the nation’s drug laws could mean offenders no longer face prison sentences.
Anti-drugs officials told The National that Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the Minister of Interior and Deputy Prime Minister, had ordered all concerned authorities to evaluate current anti-narcotics laws and suggest reforms.
Generally, the overhaul will consider new methods to punish or treat convicts, especially repeat offenders, such as social and community services.
Brig Gen Maktoum al Sharifi, the head of Abu Dhabi Capital Police, welcomed the idea of reforms, saying the law should not consider a drug offender a criminal, as it currently does.
“A drug addict is a sick person and he should be treated as such,” Brig Gen al Sharifi said. “Alternative punishment would be more effective. A drug offender could be just an addict, not a criminal, but after locking him up for years he could come out involved in crimes such as stealing, drug dealing, et cetera.”
Alternative punishments police have proposed include community service, such as cleaning the streets, schools or voluntary work.
Major reforms proposed by rehabilitation centres include allowing family members to turn in drug offenders to avoid prosecution. Currently, only if abusers themselves seek rehabilitation will they avoid going to jail.
“Addicts would be under the influence of drugs and would not think clearly, so those around them should be allowed to help them,” said Dr Hamad al Ghafiri, the general director of the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) in Abu Dhabi. “We want to encourage people to seek treatment, so we should assure them that they will not face prison for doing so.”
Another major reform, Dr al Ghafiri said, would be the creation of a data-tracking system that would link clinics across the nation to avoid prescription “shopping”. He said many patients had used old prescriptions for addiction-treatment medicines provided by the NRC to obtain extra doses by visiting different clinics across the country. Abu Dhabi, he said, had already linked its clinics and pharmacies.
Experts said drug offenders were usually treated as criminals rather than victims or even patients.
Saeed Abdul Baseer, the Chief Justice of Abu Dhabi Criminal Court of First Instance, said that he would prefer to send patients to rehabilitation centres or give them lesser sentences, but that he was restricted by the law. The minimum sentence for drug crimes is four years – a regulation especially punitive to expatriates who cannot be admitted to rehabilitation centres.
“I would be very happy to give them lesser sentence or send them to rehabilitation centres,” the chief justice said. “It is not an easy thing to sentence a young offender to four years in prison. But I have to follow the law.”
Faiza Moussa, a lawyer who deals with drug cases, said jail sentences were not an effective deterrent.
“Drug addiction is more of a psychological problem,” Mrs Moussa said. “I dealt with defendants who lapsed too many times. They go to prison and then they are released, they would have been properly coached or rehabilitated.”
She suggested toxins should be removed from the body of drug offenders before considering any punishment. After removing toxins, she said, the offender should be referred to a specialist, who would try to turn them away from lapsing back into drug use. She also suggested jails should have workshops to train inmates on how to be a productive member of society after leaving prison.
“Most of drug addicts are either unemployed, uneducated or with social problems,” she said. “If they teach him a certain profession to start a business after they leave prison, I think most of them would not return to drugs.”