There, during a time when the city was making news for having Jackie Robinson break baseball’s colour barrier when he suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 and the city’s signature brownstones were lived in by families that weren’t millionaires, there was a lot of greenery. And by greenery we mean marijuana. Dope. Pot. The Dude’s best lady friend, Mary Jane.
And it just kind of… grew. Everywhere.
In an online article posted by the Brooklyn Public Library, they described the visual of walking through 1940s Brooklyn by saying:
…10 foot tall Cannabis sativa plants could be seen all around…happily waving in the wind like any other innocuous and legal weed.”
In appearance these hard-to-miss sativa plants are basically the Michael Phelps (himself known to partake in a toke or two on occasion) of the cannabis strain-tall and thin, with long, narrow leaves. Sativa, which can grow up to 20 feet in height, is known for its hallucinogenic effect, and it flourishes growing outdoors.
That’s in comparison to the other member of the pot family, Cannabis indica, which for the sake of pure entertainment we’ll liken to another lover of the ganja, Danny DeVito. Short, a little denser around the middle, with a high that’s a little more soothing.
Brooklyn wasn’t the only one of New York’s five boroughs that would have a potential blocks-wide buzz should a cigarette smoker happen to toss a butt over their shoulder whist walking through the wrong abandoned lot or underpass.
When, in 1951 a special task force called the White Wing Squad was formed to put an end to the all-natural dope buffet undoubtedly being enjoyed by at least a few residents, 41,000 pounds of marijuana was harvested from 274 lots across the city. Of that, Brooklyn accounted for 17,200 pounds, with those uprooted plants having a ballpark value of $6 million dollars.
As League of Justice-esque their moniker may have sounded, the White Wings were actually a non-addictive branch of New York’s Department of Sanitation. They were also, to be blunt, party poopers-for a variety of reasons. They were under a strict, work-enforced moral code that prohibited them from using foul language (‘Goodness gracious! Lookee here at all that crazy marijuana we just cut down!’), or even entering a saloon (the Dude would NOT abide).
Under orders from Sanitation Department Chief Inspector John E. Gleason all 41,000 pounds were incinerated. It is safe to say whoever was working the ovens that week would’ve had a career high case of the munchies.
Although Gleason would not have been a pal to either Jeff Lebowski or Saul Silver, they may have had an ally in State Supreme Court Justice John Murtagh. During an interview given in 1951 to Campus Press Conference, the judge offers some ahead-of-its-time reasoning as to why marijuana need not be the vilified green devil it had become by that point. In it he surmises, “There are many respectable scientists who maintain that the [cigarette] smoking habit is worse than the marijuana habit, and the evidence to a degree tends to bear them out.”
So, as Saul and the Dude stroll blissfully through their Brooklyn heavenly oasis, perhaps you might overhear this coming from the El Duderino in-between deep inhales:
“Hey, cool it Gleason.”
- Tiku, N., 2011. In Brooklyn, Cannabis Plants Once Grew As High As Christmas Trees
- The Brooklyn Public Library, 2011. White Wings and Dream Stuff
- Leaf Science, 2014. Indica vs. Sativa: Understanding the Difference
- The Daily Mail, 2014. Weeding Out Williamsburg
- Colon, D., 2014. While weed grew wild in 50s Brooklyn, NY judge told people to chill
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