Ten unusual photos posted on a mesmerizing Brooklyn Public Library blog illustrates the amazing, and little known fact that several neighborhoods in Brooklyn used to be covered in marijuana.
According to the blog “razor-toothed fronds of 10 foot tall Cannabis sativa plants could be seen all around the city happily waving in the wind like any other innocuous and legal weed.”
That was in the 1940s. Come the 1950s and things got a bit tougher for the drug and those who enjoyed its intoxicating effects when law enforcement aggressively began a campaign to rid the city of its wild marijuana.
John E. Gleason, Chief Inspector of the Sanitation Department, formed what was called the “White Wing Squad.” This special group was mandated to dig up and destroy Cannabis where ever it could be found growing around town. Their efforts proved successful. By the end of the campaign over 41,000 pounds of pot was incinerated, about 17,000 pounds harvested in Brooklyn alone. The most popular growing spots were in Williamsburg, Greenpoint and East New York.
Not everyone in law enforcement agreed with this draconian undertaking. In an interview with State Supreme Court Justice John Murtagh, unearthed by WNYC from their archives, Murtagh stated that there are studies that show that marijuana was non-addictive and perhaps even safer than smoking tobacco cigarettes.
As other states around the country begin to move to partial legalization; such as for medical use; or complete legalization for recreational use, like now in Colorado and Washington; New York still arrests and prosecutes people for possession of pot.
“In the last decade since Michael Bloomberg became mayor, the NYPD has made 400,038 lowest level marijuana possession arrests at a cost of $600 million dollars. Nearly 350,000 of the marijuana possession arrests made under Bloomberg are of overwhelmingly young Black and Latino men, despite the fact that young whites use marijuana at higher rates than young Blacks and Latinos,” a 2012 Drug Policy Alliance report stated.
Today, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thomson promises to curtail prosecuting instances where less than 15 grams of pot were found. He stated that these cases would be treated as noncriminal offenses. There is also a movement in the New York State legislature to legalize Cannabis here.