What are the punishments for minors caught drinking alcohol and illegal selling of alcohol in the UAE?

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Before the new changes that were effected by the Federal Decree By Law No. 15 of 2020, it was illegal to consume alcohol without a valid permit. The permits were issued by the respective authorities in each emirate and were subject to the provisions of the law on alcoholic beverage control issued in 1972. Thus, pursuant to the said law it was illegal to import, export, manufacture, acquire, drink, supply, sell or offer alcoholic drinks to any person who does not possess a valid alcohol license, issued by the appropriate licensing authority on an emirate level. Violation of the said rules would have invited a penalty equivalent to six months imprisonment and a fine or five thousand dirhams.

New changes:

With the recent changes effected in the federal laws, the consumption of alcohol has been legalized in the UAE, subject to the restrictions imposed by each emirate.

For the emirate of Dubai, the following rules apply:

  • The consumption of alcohol is not longer a criminal offence;
  • There is no requirement to hold a valid alcohol license, as was the case prior to the new changes;
  • The legal age for consumption of alcohol is determined to be twenty one (21);
  • Alcohol cannot be consumed in public places that are not licensed to sell alcohol, however, it can be consumed in private place as well as licenses restaurants and bars.

Consumption of alcohol by Minors:

In terms of alcohol consumption, a minor would be any person who is below the age of twenty-one (21) and further, it is a punishable offence for any person to sell alcoholic beverage to a minor (‘minor’ as within the purview of this law).

Article 313 (bis) of the Law No. 15 of 2020 reads as follows:

No penalty shall be imposed on drinking, possessing or trading in alcoholic drinks in the cases and at places authorized in accordance with the legislation in force.

  1. Without prejudice to the provision of Clause (1) of this Article, each emirate may issue regulations for the use, circulation and possession of alcoholic drinks or trade therein.
  2. Whoever offers or sells alcoholic drinks to any person under 21 years of age or buys the same for the purpose of offering to such person shall be punished by imprisonment and a fine of no less than one hundred dirhams and not more than five hundred thousand dirhams or any of such penalties. Any of such actions shall not be considered a crime if the perpetrator verifies that the age of the person to which the alcoholic drinks is offered or sold is not less than 21 years, based on his passport or any official document.

It is critical to understand that the new changes in the right context, especially, that each emirate has its own rules and if there is a local law of a given emirate that prohibits the consumption of alcohol then, the said local laws would apply instead of the Federal laws in such instances. For instance, the emirate of Sharjah, has local laws in place that have been in effect for decades which specifically criminalizes the consumption of alcohol in the said emirate and have not been revoked yet.

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