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UAE eases drug laws for travellers, raising questions on Billy Hood case

The news that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will relax cannabis drug laws has raised new questions about the case of a British national detained for possessing CBD products.

The UAE has said it will destroy products containing cannabis that have been brought into the country by foreign travellers, instead of imprisoning individuals, in what has been described as a “step in the right direction” by campaigners.

However, the development raises the question of the release of British national Billy Hood who was imprisoned for trafficking, selling and possessing CBD earlier this year.

Published in the country’s official gazette, the Associated Press (AP) has reported that the UAE has confirmed it will be relaxing its drug laws around cannabis. Travellers carrying cannabis products would normally face a four-year prison sentence if caught.

According to AP, the law change will see minimum sentences for first-time drug offenders of three months to two years, and convicts will be offered rehabilitation. It also reports that travellers caught with cannabis products are normally deported to their home countries following imprisonment, but that this decision will now be left to a judge. 

A number of foreigners have been imprisoned by the UAE for what the country constitutes as crimes, including having prescription medicines.

The recent case of 24-year-old Billy Hood saw the British footballer sentenced to 25 years in prison in Dubai following the discovery of four bottles of CBD in his car.

Billy explained to the authorities that his friend from England must have left them there on the way to the airport following a visit and that he was not aware of the presence of the products.

At the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) headquarters, a urine sample was processed which was returned as negative and Billy was asked to sign a document in Arabic without an English translation, which Billy refused to do. After being sent back to a holding cell, Billy succumbed to the pressure and agreed to sign the document in Arabic, not knowing its content. 

Radha Stirling, CEO of campaign group Detained in Dubai, which is working with Billy’s case, commented that: “Forced and coerced confessions are commonplace in Dubai.”

Billy’s brother Alexander is fighting for his freedom and the case has been appealed by Billy’s lawyers following allegations that Hood has been tortured after being moved to Al Sadr prison in Abu Dhabi and placed in solitary confinement in a cockroach-infested cell.

Billy’s mother has reported that he has been uncontactable since being moved to the prison. 

Speaking to Cannabis Wealth on the new development to UAE drug laws, Stirling commented: “It’s pleasing to see the UAE is finally addressing draconian drug laws that have seen numerous foreigners locked up for arbitrary reasons like prescription medicine, residual THC in blood from hashish consumed overseas as well as simply knowing someone who has possessed small amounts of drugs. 

“This is a step in the right direction and something we’ve pursued for almost 14 years. But what really needs to be focused on is forced confessions and wrongful prosecutions like we have seen in the case of Billy Hood whose appeal results are expected today.

“The changes in law have come after years of public outrage caused by the large number of wrongful arrests and prosecutions. We are pleased to see the UAE responding to calls for legislative change but the procedural issues will continue to cause unfair detentions.”

On 27 November, 2021, Billy’s family appeared at Dubai’s largest luxury property show in London to set off #FreeBilly balloons for his birthday.

“Billy’s mother Breda is frightened to get her hopes up for next week’s appeal results,” commented Stirling in a statement.

“It has been a most distressing time since Billy was moved to Abu Dhabi and put in isolation. The past year has been an absolute nightmare for the family and they are stressed out of their minds.

“Andy Neal went through the same thing. He was detained for a whole year before finally being exonerated. I don’t think anyone can imagine what that does to a person. The impact and trauma are ongoing and lead to broken families and damaged victims. The human toll of failing and corrupt police practices is extreme and a serious human rights issue.

“When UAE enterprise then comes to London to put on property shows and the like, offering free residency visas and 50 per cent mortgages, we have to understand that people will be lured into these offerings and are at risk of losing their investments as they have done systematically for over a decade, their freedom or like Lee Bradley Brown, their lives. 

“There are thousands of foreigners who have been deceived by property developers often owned by the government and this deceit has resulted in their loss of funds and freedom as banks have jailed them for debt. Numerous British nationals are in Dubai right now, prisoners in the capital of fraud and money laundering. After being robbed by companies with deceptive trade practices and zero accountability, they are then held in the country until they can repay mortgages for homes that were never even finished. The catch is, their passports will be confiscated and their working permits cancelled at the same time. Foreigners have faced homelessness and become suicidal over this egregious situation.

“The [UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office] FCDO has been criticised for its lack of sufficient travel warnings to the UAE and in fact, this very issue will be debated in Parliament shortly. For the time being, it’s important that those being lured into mortgages, debt and unfinished property developments are warned by rights groups of the risks they face in the Gulf. The best way to do that is to attend Dubai’s marketing events to warn citizens directly.”

A petition to release Hood from prison has so far received more than 100,000 signatures and is aiming to collect 150,000 signatures to become one of the most popular petitions in the history of Change.org.

An FCDO spokesperson said: “We are giving consular support to a British man who has been imprisoned in the UAE. We are in contact with his family in the UK.”

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