When Weed Grew Wild in Williamsburg

Thursday, January 23, 2014 - 11:38 AM

Evil harvest--Inspector John E. Gleason of the Sanitation Department supervises as departmental workers load uprooted marijuana onto truck. Weeds found growing near Williamsburg Bridge. (Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection.)

Remember when New York City was covered in weed? Well it turns out that even as the city oversaw historic removal efforts in the 1950s, there were already some in government urging swift legislative reform.

In this notably candid episode of WNYC's Campus Press Conference from 1951, not only does State Supreme Court Justice John Murtagh reject punitive solutions to drug problems, but he also says that science supports the notion that marijuana is non-addictive and potentially safer than cigarettes.

The interview is surprising for two reasons.  First, it debunks the perception that people were completely freaked out by weed in the 1950s. Between mass hysteria-inducing cult films like Reefer Madness and the shock and awe of educational television, it's interesting to learn that our views about marijuana haven't changed all that much.

Secondly, there was a HUGE marijuana crackdown in New York in 1951.  At the time, weed grew everywhere, with seven foot high plants sprouting in fields from Williamsburg to Cobble Hill to East New York.  In 1951 alone, a division of the Department of Sanitation called the "White Wing Squad" confiscated and destroyed 41,000 pounds of the plant. These photos and corresponding story from the Brooklyn Public Library go a long way to help us understand the marijuana jungle that was New York City in 1951. To hear the entire Campus Press Conference, visit the full catalog record here. Audio courtesy of New York City Municipal Archives.

Weeding out operation--Police Inspector Peter Terranova, commanding officer of the narcotics squad, flanked by Anthony Cristiano, a Department of Sanitation workman, and Frank Creta, general inspector. photo: Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection.

Plenty of dream stuff--There seems to be no end to the marijuana 'plantations' unearthed in the borough. Here Sanitation Department Chief Inspector John E. Gleason examines a plant taller than he, found in a lot at 81 N. 4th St. photo: Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection


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Comments [8]

Loretta Canavan from Florida

It is being grown for medicinal purposes to help very sick children and adults, that's a great thing but other than that, I don't know much about marijuana to make an opinion.

Jan. 26 2014 08:26 PM
ParisParamus from ParkSlope

Why does the photo captioned "Weeding out operation--Police Inspector Peter Terranova..." look like the people were pasted into the scene?

Jan. 25 2014 08:30 AM

Those pictures look slightly faked to me.

Jan. 25 2014 04:12 AM
Regina Matteson from New York

Vincent responded I am taken by surprise that some one can profit $9022 in four weeks on the computer . more information>>> TEC80.COM

Jan. 24 2014 05:40 PM
Agent00Soul from West Village

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. Many trees.

Jan. 24 2014 12:21 PM

Dag, I totally missed it! I guess all those people openly smoking on the streets in Weeburg now are doing it as a tribute...

Jan. 23 2014 03:56 PM
Shane from Lahore, Pakistan

having lived in Williamsburg for two years as student, always had feeling that it could be the biggest weed jungle on earth with land around east river providing perfect environ.

Jan. 23 2014 02:18 PM

great alliteration in the title for this piece. who writes this stuff? HIGHLY interesting!!

Jan. 23 2014 12:40 PM

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