An American is facing potentially years in a Dubai prison for something he did legally in the United States.

In a cautionary and chilling tale that has drawn attention to the United Arab Emirates’ ultra-punitive anti-drug laws, Peter Clark has found himself in legal jeopardy over what appears to be an incredibly unfortunate series of events.

Here’s the backstory, which comes via the website “Detained in Dubai”, a group founded by Radha Stirling that claims to “have helped thousands of victims of injustice over the past ten years”: Clark, a resident of Las Vegas, flew to Dubai on February 24 “to assess professional recording studios.” There, he was rushed to the hospital for emergency treatment for pancreatitis. While at the hospital, personnel conducted a urine test and “found residue traces of hashish.”

The website’s account continues: “They dutifully reported their findings to police who promptly turned up to the hospital to charge Peter, who was still in a drowsy state, having not been able to eat or drink since he was admitted. On the 3rd of March, Peter was handcuffed and taken to Al Barsha police station, where he was put in a detention cell with three other men. He didn’t understand why he had been detained. He had not brought any drugs into the UAE, purchased or consumed any drugs in Dubai.”

Clark told the Daily Mail that he last smoked marijuana a few days before flying from Las Vegas to Dubai. Recreational pot use is legal in Nevada, as in a number of other states and cities in the U.S.

“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,” he told the Daily Mail. “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.”

Clark’s Current Situation in Dubai

Clark was released from his prison cell on March 6, according to “Detained in Dubai,” and was then “told to return to his hotel and await their contact.” 

He remains there, and apparently faces “years in prison.”

Stirling, who is representing Clark, decried the UAE’s harsh anti-drug laws.

“The UAE’s arbitrary enforcement of laws and lack of predictable legal outcomes means that Peter potentially faces years in prison for legally smoking marijuana. Even if found innocent, he can be dragged through a slow and costly legal process”, Stirling said

“The UAE creates the illusion of being a modern party place and although visitors accept that certain behaviours are illegal, it is very easy to be confused when police only randomly enforce the law. On the one hand, prostitution, homosexuality and indecent behaviours are unlawful, and yet they are seen more blatantly in Dubai than most other world cities. It is easy to see how visitors might be trapped into believing that anything goes and the police will turn a blind eye. The UAE should not be prosecuting visitors for acts committed outside their country. Peter has committed no genuine crime within Dubai. It is clear that the UAE must alter the technical wording of their drug laws to ensure foreigners are not unnecessarily persecuted.”

While the ultimate outcome in Peter Clark’s case is yet to be determined, it serves as a sobering reminder that, even now, many places in the world are particularly hostile to cannabis users. Despite mounting scientific evidence that the plant has significant medicinal potential, many governments (including some local governments in our own country) choose to continue to criminalize and vilify it.