When Brooklyn Was a Marijuana Town

03/23/2011 1:41 PM |

1950s Marijuana Bust in Cobble Hill
  • 1950s Marijuana Bust in Cobble Hill

In the summer of 1951, the Department of Sanitation uprooted and destroyed more than 17,000 pounds of marijuana growing in Brooklyn lots. At the time, the entire city was a “marijuana jungle,” Ben Gocker wrote on the Brooklyn Public Library’s Brooklynology blog in January, with plants as tall as Christmas trees sprouting from the borough’s “marijuana plantations,” amounting to millions of dollars worth of the drug. Brooklyn had the city’s second largest haul, just slightly behind Queens.

The plants tended to grow in “anonymous vacant lots”: on Avenue X; near the 3 train’s present-day New Lots terminus (at the corner of Livonia and Warwick); and at 82 Butler Street in Cobble Hill, where more than 100 pounds of pot were discovered in 1953. Plants grew on the banks of the Newtown Creek in “lush impudence,” according to a historic Brooklyn Eagle article quoted by the Carroll Gardens Patch. Confiscated crops were taken to Woodside, where they were incinerated.

Patch also dug up a 1951 New Yorker article, in which a reporter travels with the chief sanitation inspector on a sweep of Brooklyn:

“We can’t hope to wipe it out entirely,” Gleason told the magazine’s reporter. “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 yards 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 Patch article continues:

An NYPD narcotics squad spokesman told a Brooklyn Eagle reporter in 1947 that “the weed is liable to pop up wherever flaxseed is fed to pigeons and wherever it falls on fertile soil.” [huh? was that spokesman sampling the evidence?]

That same article describes a mile-long stretch along Newtown Creek where the weeds were thriving. Local factory owners had complained to their police precinct about the growth, fearing that its consumers “might go berserk and break into the factories.” Locals also reported “crazed” cats and dogs roaming the area.

Last year, a Times reporter found wild marijuana growing in a Ditmas Park yard. Will history repeat itself, with wild grass fueling wild grass parties in Brooklyn? Look out for crazed house pets.

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  • A book titled Weeds: An Environmental History of Metropolitan America indicates this was a problem in other parts of the city, too, such as Queens