MaltaToday: Big trouble over a little marijuana
NEWS | Sunday, 23 December 2007

Big trouble over a little marijuana

Raphael Vassallo

A Maltese national is currently in police custody in Dubai, having been arrested some weeks ago for possession of cannabis for personal use: a serious offence in the conservative Islamic state of the United Arab Emirates.
The Maltese consulate in Dubai is currently offering its assistance in the case of the young man, believed to be a voluntary worker, who was arrested while in transit through Dubai International Airport. It is understood that the man was subject to a routine scan by airport security officials, and found to be in possession of what unofficial sources have described as “negligible quantities” of cannabis.
The UAE employs a zero tolerance policy for illegal drugs, and penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in controlled substances are severe, even where small quantities are concerned.
If convicted, the Maltese national can face up to 15 years in prison. Legislation enacted in January 1996 also imposes the death sentence for convicted drug traffickers, although judging by recent analogous cases, this is a highly unlikely scenario in this particular instance.
Apart from stipulating tougher penalties for substances such as cannabis, the UAE’s tough anti-narcotics program also features substances considered perfectly legal in other countries, including poppy seeds: widely used in other cultures as ingredients for culinary purposes.
A little knowledge can go a long way towards avoiding very serious situations when visiting countries such as the UAE. As one source familiar with the country told MaltaToday: “It is a little known fact that carrying illegal substances, regardless of quantity, is considered a serious offence even if one is only in transit through the country, and has no intention of stepping outside the airport.”
Travellers to the United Arab Emirates should also be aware that airport security makes use of sophisticated scanning technology which makes it all but impossible to get through the Dubai airport in possession of illegal substances.
Meanwhile, the case of the Maltese national, while a headache for local authorities, is far from unique. In May last year, Grammy Award winning music producer Dallas Austin was arrested last year for possession of 1.26 grammes of cocaine, among other illegal substances. After a high profile case, the popular producer was eventually pardoned.
Similarly, British Radio 1 DJ Raymond Bingham, aka DJ Grooverider, was arrested in Dubai last month for possession of cannabis and pornography.
Both cases attracted considerable media attention in the USA and UK respectively, with the Guardian’s Brian Whitaker commenting: “Ultimately, this results in one law for the locals and another for foreigners – or rather, two different laws for foreigners depending on whether they are westerners (and therefore to be treated with care) or foreigners from poor countries.”

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