In the not-so-distant past, Brooklyn was filled with marijuana plants “as tall as Christmas trees” in vacant lots, as reported by the Brooklyn Eagle in 1951. Ben Gocker, a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library, recently found clippings in a folder called “Crime: Drugs: Marijuana,” which describe the weed “plantations” across the borough, which were raided by the Department of Sanitation and the NYPD in the summer of 1951. Nothing green can stay.
According to Gocker’s research, as relayed on the Carroll Gardens Patch site and the library’s own Brooklynology blog earlier this year, that fateful summer “sanitation workers dug up and incinerated 41,000 pounds of marijuana from 274 lots around the city. Queens produced the largest crop, at 17,445 pounds, while Brooklyn was a close second, with 17,200 pounds.”
“A lot of it is planted, but the weed grows freely here, and most of the marijuana in the city is probably in the back ears of people who don’t know what it is, and therefore don’t report it Each plant bears clusters of seeds that are blown away by the wind and sprout elsewhere,” the Department of Sanitation Chief Inspector John E. Gleason told The New Yorker in August of 1951. The area surrounding the Gowanus Canal was reportedly a hub of “illegal activities.”
The Brooklyn Eagle warned its readers at the time: “If you spot these leaves in your back yard, growing in a tall, erect stalk, you have a budding marijuana crop on tap and the Sanitation Department would like to know about it.” The plants destroyed were thought to be worth about $6,000,000.