Ben Gocker, a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library, recently uncovered an intriguing chapter in the borough’s not-too-distant past. In the early fifties, Cannabis sativa plants apparently grew tall enough to hang ornaments on for the holidays. They grew in empty lots from Avenue X to the banks of the Newton Creek as well as around the Gowanus Canal. Of course, the fifties was a more innocent time. Many residents didn’t realize what was growing in their own backyards. In their attempt to wipe out the native green, officials warned residents, “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.” In the summer of 1951, sanitation workers dug up and incinerated 41,000 pounds of marijuana from 274 lots around New York.
Well, the fifties weren’t that innocent. At the time, downtown Brooklyn also had its share of illegal growers. In one case, a band of farmers grew a 300-pound patch in the middle of the building site for the new Civic Center, and in another empty lot on Butler Street (that’s now an apartment building), city police removed a 100-pound crop. In light of the natural bounty that once flourished in empty lots, perhaps Brooklynites should think about amending that “Develop, Don’t Destroy” motto.
Fields of Cannabis in Old Brooklyn [Carroll Gardens Patch]