Danielle GuercioOctober 25, 2019

In the early days, cannabis and hemp grew wild in North America right after becoming imported by colonizers. Prior to the 1930s, seeing a field of six-foot cannabis plants in an abandoned yard wasn’t uncommon, even in crowded New York City. But 60-odd years ago, weed ended up hidden from public view practically completely.

Not extended right after the extremely 1st mention of cannabis in the Brooklyn Each day Eagle on—wait for it—April 20th, 1924, the city started to address its wild cannabis difficulty with a tiny support from the Sanitation Division. An old college slash-and-burn work sought to get rid of it on the imply streets of NY. And yes they known as it “loco weed.”

When some see a cannabis leaf, genuine, cartoon, imagined, or otherwise, they recoil as if presented with a skull and crossbones or a thing terribly poisonous. This reaction is the conditioning of decades of drug education which have demonized the plant. Headlines like “Some Good Ladies Find out Marijuana” and “Robt. Mitchum Held With Pal, two Girls at Film Reefer Celebration” have been popular in the 1940s, displaying that it was a typically applied intoxicant, a great deal like now.

Understanding why the plant left our consciousness and entered the counterculture is vital. The disappearance of cannabis and feral hemp from our byways, abandoned lots, commodity provide, and pharmacological tool kit has helped fuel a disconnect with the plant.

The White Wings

Weeding out operation–Police Inspector Peter Terranova, commanding officer of the narcotics squad, flanked by Anthony Cristiano, a Division of Sanitation workman, and Frank Creta, common inspector of the division, exhibit element of a haul of extra than 100 pounds of marijuana discovered increasing at 82 Butler St. The dope weed was burned in division incinerators. (Brooklyn Public Library)

In 1950s New York, the Division of Sanitation was assisting to fuel that disconnect. NPR known as it a “historic removal effort” in a 2014 write-up, saying:

“Weed grew everywhere, with seven-foot higher plants sprouting in fields from Williamsburg to Cobble Hill to East New York. In 1951 alone, a division of the Division of Sanitation known as the ‘White Wing Squad’ confiscated and destroyed 41,000 pounds of the plant.”

This war on open-air cannabis in Brooklyn was 1st pointed out in The Brooklyn Each day Eagle on June 20th, 1951 with a photo and caption of the deed: “EVIL HARVEST—Sanitation workers launch war of eradication on lush crop of marijuana increasing in city’s vacant lots.” And for a bit of super-potent historical context, the headline below it touts a rounding up of communists by the FBI.

Later that year, the White Wing squad was lastly pointed out by name, reportedly taking 3 to 4 days to destroy the “biggest crop yet” in globe renowned Coney Island, exactly where Sanitation Inspector John E. Gleason notes plants “the size of Christmas trees.” Clearly no Santa’s helper, Gleason is even reported assisting the Narcotics Division discern who may well have planted the field.

Getting felt happy with their system, it appears that right after the ‘50s, cannabis enforcement fell mostly to the New York Police Division.

Who have been they so afraid of?

Soon after Globe War II’s short reprieve of cannabis hysteria, it picked proper back up with a renewed fervor. Chasing as soon as once again right after jazz musicians and urban black people, new targets have been sought starting in the 1950s, namely immigrants from the Caribbean, leftists—including but not restricted to socialists and communists—and the emerging literary movement of the time, the Beat poets.

The culture of the era was primarily based on the prosperity of the post-war society, and the triumph of capitalism and middle-class values have been cemented. Madison Avenue may well have had the Mad Guys throughout this time, but Greenwich Village and the Decrease East Side had Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Burroughs.

Writer Anthony Gramuglia sums up the connection very effectively:

“Society’s therapy of marijuana led to it becoming a taboo, which led to similarly taboo jazz music to embrace it. In turn, the counter-culture embraced each jazz and marijuana as pillars to its anti-establishment movement. And so on, appropriating other literature and mindsets to additional expand their objectives.”

New York City was generally a hub of counterculture, and as extended as it has welcomed waves of new residents and new suggestions, nativism has reared its ugly head in ugly approaches. We’ll by no means know how far the ripple effects of the campaign to reduce cannabis out of New York spread, but it coincided with waves of enforcement targeted 1st at Mexican immigrants in the 1930s, communist, leftist, and civil rights groups in the 1950s, and effectively into the 1970s.

No matter the intent of the Sanitation Division or the NYPD on providing weed the boot from the 5 boroughs, it is effect is a legacy that has constantly disadvantaged communities, resulting in constant inequality, as effectively as a massive discrepancy in who is generating funds in today’s legal cannabis industry.

Danielle Guercio's Bio Image

Danielle Guercio

Hailing from New York, Danielle Guercio is an artist and writer, as effectively as a healthcare cannabis patient and advocate. Her Sicilian-American background instilled in her a passion for culture that drives her storytelling to a spot of neighborhood-developing and solidarity—as effectively as to life’s several indulgences.