American Jailed In Dubai For Legally Smoking Marijuana Before Trip

Dubai welcomes millions of visitors from abroad annually, and it’s known for being one of the most “open” places in the Middle East. It’s a destination that people go to party and have a good time, and a vast majority of the time people leave without issues.

However, that’s not always the case, and this is a good reminder of the risks…

In this post:

American hospitalized and then jailed in the UAE

The Daily Mail has the story of how a 51-year-old American man from Las Vegas traveled to Dubai in late February. He smoked marijuana in Las Vegas legally prior to his trip, and of course didn’t take any with him, since that’s highly illegal.

A day after arriving in Dubai, the man fell ill with pancreatitis and was hospitalized. He received emergency treatment, and a day prior to being discharged he was asked to provide a urine sample.

The urine sample showed traces of marijuana, which is illegal in the UAE. Per laws in the country, the hospital had to turn over those results to the police.

At that point the man was arrested by the police and thrown in jail for three days. While in jail, a vein where an IV had been placed as part of his treatment became infected, and the medicine he was prescribed also weren’t given to him by jail staff.

After being released from jail he was confined to his hotel, as prosecutors are still deciding whether to charge him, in which case he could be looking at up to three years in jail on drug charges. He’s not allowed to leave the country, as he’s apparently on the UAE’s “no fly list.”

As the man said in an interview:

“I was absolutely stunned to learn that I was being charged due to residual marijuana in my system. I smoked it legally back in America long before I even got on the plane.
I knew about Dubai’s strict drugs laws but never for one moment did I think something I legally did in my own country would lead to my arrest.
This has just turned into a complete nightmare. I never thought by going to hospital I would end up being thrown in a jail.”

These arbitrary laws are a problem

If you ask me, this is such an egregious enforcement of the law, and hopefully these charges get dropped. This is the general issue with traveling to a country that has strict laws that aren’t enforced a vast majority of the time.

It’s obviously one thing if he brought marijuana to the UAE, or consumed it while there. But instead he legally consumed it in the US prior to his trip.

I have to be honest — I’m familiar with the UAE’s laws in general, but I didn’t realize that consuming marijuana in a different country prior to visiting the UAE was illegal. Of course I can understand how the police would be concerned to find marijuana in someone’s system, but you’d think an explanation and potential search of someone would clear this up. Then again, this is a non-issue a vast majority of the time, since this only became a problem because the visitor was hospitalized.

And before someone starts talking about how “drugs” are bad and that this guy should have known better, let’s keep in mind that until late 2020 it was a criminal offense in the UAE to consume alcohol without an alcohol license.

Of course so many people in the UAE drink, but people weren’t prosecuted unless they were arrested for another offense. So it was another law that was enforced when it was convenient, but otherwise not.

And then there have been laws against using VPNslaws against “writing bad words on social media,” or heck, laws against plane spotting.

Does this mean you shouldn’t travel to the UAE?

You might be saying “well how can you ever recommend anyone travel to the UAE when things like this happen?” It’s a fair question.

I’d counter that by sharing a story that a friend who is a flight attendant at Emirates once told me. She was working a flight to the US, and noticed that one of her colleagues seemed nervous the whole flight. She asked her if everything was okay. As it turns out, it was the flight attendant’s first time visiting the US, and she was terrified of her layover — she had heard about all the mass shootings in the US, and was scared that could happen to her.

And she’s not wrong. Ultimately is that any less of a risk than potentially violating a law in the UAE and actually being charged as a visitor? I’d say not. There are a few “viral” stories every year about people being jailed in the UAE for seemingly unbelievable reasons, but that’s about it.

So yes, you should always keep in mind the risks of traveling to foreign countries, and consider local laws. There’s reason to be concerned. But ultimately this impacts a tiny percentage of people, just as backwards policies in other countries also impact people.

The US has backwards drug laws as well

If the UAE wants to deport this person that’s fair. I think the main issue is the fact that he’s potentially looking at years at jail, which is on a different level.

It’s important to consider how backwards our laws in the US are against marijuana as well:

  • Smoking marijuana is legal in many US states
  • At the same time, you can be denied entry to the US if you admit that you’ve ever used “drugs”
  • In other words, a Canadian who has legally used marijuana in Canada years ago could be denied entry to the US for admitting that

Bottom line

An American man is potentially looking at a jail sentence of several years in Dubai after legally smoking marijuana in Las Vegas prior to his trip. This only became an issue because the man was hospitalized shortly after arriving in the country, and was forced to provide a urine sample.

It’s another reminder of the general risks of traveling to countries with different laws. These differences typically don’t pose any problems, until they do…

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