As we sort of assume you already know, tomorrow is
four twuntaaaaaaay 4/20. It is also record store day, and a Saturday! This is the adult equivalent of Halloween falling on a weekend, and should not be taken for granted.
And there are so many ways to celebrate! In particular, one really obvious one. But this is not mutually exclusive, by any means, to spending a little time thinking about the history of this borough in which we live and breathe, the thoughts and feelings and actions of the people who came before us and walked on this very ground, the context in which we find ourselves and whether our existence means everything, or nothing? In other words, thinking about 10 of Brooklyn's most important marijuana milestones. Let's look back.
Not Brooklyn (or even New York)-specific, but an important moment, as this is when weed became illegal on a national level. For what it's worth, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia was a major opponent of the Tax Act, and his "La Guardia Committee" contradicted other federal studies with its common sense findings, such as "Marijuana is not the determining factor in the commission of major crimes" and "marijuana smoking is not widespread among school children." Ultimately it wasn't effective, and a year later, officials collected and burned 2,975 pounds of marijuana (most of it found in Brooklyn and Queens) in a controlled blaze.
Known to many as the Emperor of Hemp (or "Hemperor," if you want to go there), Herer was one of America's most vocal and active legalization advocates, penning books like Grass and The Emperor Wears No Clothes. He even ran for president a couple of times under the Grassroots Party! Herer didn't spend much of his personal or professional life in New York, but he was, in fact, born in Brooklyn, so we can still claim him as a native son.
That summer, the department of sanitation attempted to get a handle on our borough's rampant marijuana growth, destroying 17,000 pounds of the plant. Brooklyn, at the time, was something of a "marijuana jungle," so much so that residents worried the plant's casual growth would result in "crazed" animals roaming the streets.
Due to a perceived drug problem on campus (comprised of both marijuana and heroin use, thought to be related), Brooklyn College held a vote on forming a task force to deal with the problem with "any action necessary." At the time, the New York Times reported students gathered to protest in a room "filled with the sound of rock music," quoting one as saying "We do what we do and just be cool about it." Seems legit.
Again, not strictly Brooklyn-specific, but worth revisiting. After Assemblyman Antonio Olivieri used marijuana to cope with side effects from chemotherapy in 1979, he became one of New York's biggest medical marijuana advocates.The result was this seven-year period during which the State Department of Health gave out over 6,000 joints for approved medical use.
Specifically, "Hold It Now, Hit It." Part of a pretty long tradition of Brooklyn artists writing songs about pot, this gets points for specificity. Arguably, a precursor to (spoiler) Brooklyn's burgeoning "pot poetry" movement. Just wait.
Not Brooklyn's first or last weed bust, obviously, but definitely one of the most impressive. Starting in 1997, the Gambino crime family launched a "high-quality marijuana" operation that included a massive farm upstate, locations in queens, and a Brooklyn warehouse "outfitted with hydroponic troughs illuminated by $800,000 in stolen electricity." Located near schools. This went on until a major bust in 2005.
Arrested for weed-related reasons, in case that's not clear. Specifically in 2007, when his car pulled up to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel toll booth, a cloud of weed smoke billowed out of the windows, and into the faces of officials. "It was like something out of Cheech & Chong," one officer said. "The smoke would choke a horse." Again, not Brooklyn's first or last weed bust, but one of its most impressive.
Also 2007: Williamsburg Hosts the MMAs
Did you know the Marijuana Music Awards were a thing? I didn't, but a picture of weed poet (and undefeated MMA poetry winner) Paul Bullock performing a piece called "The Passing of the Joint" is one of the first things that comes up when you Google image search "marijuana Brooklyn," so here we are. Other works, including Mellow Hippie and Carpool Mom, can be found on his website.
Anyway, not only do these awards exist, but in 2007, they took place at a pre-renovation McCarren Pool. Memories! And sort of the impetus for this entire list, if we're being honest with each other.
Granted, this year hasn't been a productive one for anyone in favor of legalization. Just last month, Albany failed to pass small but crucial decriminalization measures, in spite of very widespread public support. Still, vocally pro-weed State Senator Diane Savino announced just last week that she and fellow lawmakers are introducing a new, tightened up medical marijuana bill to the senate, claiming the "solid" support of 38 fellow senators. Will it pass before lawmakers leave for the summer in mid-June? Well, probably not, but you never know.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.