‘We were yelled at’: Foreign residents in Switzerland speak of mask abuse

One in ten readers of The Local have been insulted or abused for wearing masks on public transport in Switzerland.

'We were yelled at': Foreign residents in Switzerland speak of mask abuse
People wearing masks on public transport in Switzerland. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Masks have been compulsory in public transport in Switzerland since July 6th. 

In a poll conducted by The Local Switzerland from late July to early August, ten percent of our readers told us they had faced abuse for wearing a mask. 

Some had been abused for wearing masks before the requirement came into place, while others found themselves the target of insults more recently. 

Image: The Local Switzerland/Google


One said they were “stared at and given dirty looks for wearing a mask” while another said “It seems people think or look at you as if it is laughable that you are using masks.”

One reader, Steve M from Argentina, was accused of being ‘irresponsible’ for wearing a mask. 

“Some people were trying to lecture me for wearing a mask, staring, or directly implying I was being irresponsible for wearing a mask.”

READ: Everything you need to know about Switzerland's new compulsory mask requirement 

Balazs H, from Hungary, said he saw people abused for refusing to wear masks on a Swiss Air flight but that the staff did nothing. 

“Ön Swiss air where passengers refused to wear and airline didn’t do anything.”

Max, from Canada, said while there were some mask skeptics in Switzerland, there were also plenty who wanted to put them in their place. 

“We got yelled at for wearing masks in a grocery store by an older person, luckily others were so friendly to argue for us.”

Several others said they were abused on social media for failing to wear a mask. 

Rachael C, from the UK, said she was yelled at in the street in Geneva for getting off a bus while wearing a mask. 

“After a bus journey before the compulsory requirement, I was wearing a mask and got off the bus to walk home. An old, drunk man screamed at me in the street in Geneva.”

“He called me crazy but because I am still learning French I still couldn’t understand everything he said. Some boys intervened, told him I was with them and to leave me alone.

Gianni S said the most concerning aspect of the abuse was that “there are many who believe that the virus is gone”. 


Infection rates have risen consistently in Switzerland since the start of July. 

‘Just explaining how to wear it properly’ 

Some readers explained that they had seen examples of people being told to wear their masks properly in public. 

In public transport or elsewhere, our readers pointed out numerous examples of people wearing masks under their chins or exposing their noses. 

Henrique S from Portugal said he didn’t consider telling someone to wear their mask properly counted as “abuse”. 

“People should be responsible on wearing the mask properly, therefore I do not think that mentioning how to use it is being abused.”

Abused for not wearing masks

While they were in the minority – less than 10 percent of more than 200 respondents said they were in favour of the mask requirement – there were some who faced abuse for failing to wear masks. 

One reader who refused to give his or her name said they had been shamed for not wearing masks outside. 

“Yes. It’s ridiculous. People (are) Asking me to wear a mask in the mountains whilst hiking and in a park queuing outside. People are just full of fear.”


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UPDATE: What are Switzerland’s rules for cannabis consumption?

Switzerland has a complicated set of rules for both medical and recreational cannabis consumption. Here's what you need to know.

UPDATE: What are Switzerland's rules for cannabis consumption?

Long prohibited and seen as a gateway drug with potentially dangerous impacts, countries across the globe have begun legalising cannabis in recent years. 

While the legalisation for medical use has been widespread, there have also been successful legalisation campaigns in several countries. 

The situation in Switzerland is also in flux and has been complicated by a range of recent changes.

Whether referred to as cannabis, marijuana or hemp, Switzerland’s Narcotics Act qualifies it as “a psychoactive substance”, with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) being its most intoxicating ingredient.

The law specifies that “only THC is controlled under the Narcotics Act. Other active substances like cannabidiol (CBD) are not subject to the Narcotics Act as they do not have comparable psychoactive effects”.

Here’s what you need to know. 

Switzerland has legalised medical marijuana 

As of August 1st, the use of cannabis for medical purposes will be allowed in Switzerland

Patients who are medically prescribed the drug will no longer need to seek exceptional permission from the health ministry, as was the case prior to August 1st. 

Demand for cannabis-based treatments has risen sharply, with the health ministry issuing 3,000 exceptional authorisations in 2019.

The government “intends to facilitate access to cannabis for medical use for patients” and was therefore lifting the ban on its use for that purpose, it said in a statement.

The previous procedure involved “tedious administrative procedures”, said the ministry. “Sick people must be able to access these medicines without excessive bureaucracy.”

As of August 1st, “the decision as to whether a cannabis medicinal product is to be used therapeutically will be made by the doctor together with the patient” the government wrote

The sale and consumption of cannabis for non-medical purposes will remain prohibited.

READ MORE: Switzerland to lift ban on medical use cannabis

The new regulations could benefit thousands of people suffering from severe chronic pain, it added, including those with cancer and multiple sclerosis.

READ ALSO: Why Basel is about to become Switzerland’s marijuana capital

The law change will also mean that the cultivation, processing, manufacture and trade of cannabis for medical use will be subject to the Swissmedic regulatory authority, just as with other narcotics for medical use such as cocaine, methadone and morphine.

Legality of recreational cannabis is determined by the THC

THC of at least 1 percent is generally prohibited in Switzerland and use of products with this (or higher) content may be punishable by a 100-franc fine.

Of course, if someone is determined to smoke it, 100 francs may not be much a deterrent — but that’s a subject for another article.

“By contrast, possession of up to 10g of cannabis for personal use is not considered a criminal offence”, the law states, as long as it is not used by or sold to minors.

Italy's constitutional court has blocked the latest efforts to legalise cannabis.

Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP.

And, as with nearly everything else in decentralised Switzerland, “there are still considerable differences between cantons regarding implementation of the fixed penalty procedure”.

However, “cannabis flowers intended for smoking with a high proportion of cannabidiol (CBD) and less than 1 percent THC can be sold and purchased legally”, according to the legislation. 

That’s because, unlike the THC, cannabidiol “does not have a psychoactive effect”.

In other words, low-content THC and CBD will not give the “high” that recreational users seek.

When will Switzerland legalise recreational cannabis?

Currently, small amounts of recreational cannabis are tolerated in Switzerland.

“The decisive factor for classification as a banned drug is how much THC is contained in a cannabis product. If the THC content exceeds one per cent, the product is prohibited. Hashish is prohibited regardless of its THC content.”

As noted by the Swiss government, “If you are caught in possession of a small amount of cannabis (no more than 10 grams) for your own consumption, you will not be fined. In addition, if you supply (but do not sell) up to 10 grams to an adult, e.g. when sharing joints, you will not be fined.”

“If you are caught using cannabis, you may be given a fixed penalty fine of 100 francs.”

In June 2020, the National Council approved a plan to start cannabis trials for recreational use.

The experiments are to be carried out in Switzerland’s larger cities. Basel, Bern, Biel, Geneva and Zurich have all expressed interest in conducting the trials. 

The study seeks to find out how the market for cannabis works – and how to combat the black market. The social effects of legalisation will also be examined. 

At this point, no decisions have been made. However, Swiss authorities have set certain conditions in case recreational use is approved.

The National Council said if cannabis were to be legalised, it must be locally grown in Switzerland – and it must be organic. 

Health Minister Alain Berset noted that legalisation should benefit Swiss farmers even though “very few producers have experience in this area”.

READ MORE: Switzerland backs recreational cannabis trials – with one condition

Can you grow your own cannabis?

In truth, a number of people cultivate marijuana plants on their balconies or in their (secluded) gardens for their own personal use.

As it turns out, the law allows it, as long as it is a variety of the plant that does not have a narcotic effect — that is, the THC content must be less than 1 percent. 

By the same token, cannabis-based products with THC content of below 1 percent can be brought into Switzerland from abroad.

However, the import rules differ depending on the type of product  it is — flowers, seeds, extracts, oils, or other goods.

How much cannabis is consumed in Switzerland each year?

Precise numbers are hard to come by, but according to an article in Le Temps, which based its information on a medical study, about 100 tonnes are consumed in the country annually.

Cannabis remains the largest market in terms of volume: it represents 85 percent of drugs consumed in Switzerland, netting between 340, 000 and 500,000 francs per year.

READ MORE: Drugs and alcohol: Just how much do the Swiss consume?