Friday A/V Club: A Weed Grows In Brooklyn

An anti-pot song and an anti-pot crackdown


Aficionados of anti-drug songs should appreciate this anti-pot number from 1951. Recorded by a forgotten country act called Mr. Sunshine & his Guitar Pickers, its charms include the use of the phrase "just say no" way back when Nancy Reagan was still Nancy Davis:

Here's how Billboard covered the single when it was released:


I'm not certain what "recent headlines" the Billboard writer had in mind. But one big marijuana story that summer was a major crackdown on the pot growing wild (and sometimes growing with human help) around New York. Ben Gocker of the Brooklyn Public Library explains:

The kids will love this year's Christmas tree!
Brooklyn Public Library

In the summer of 1951 New York City was a marijuana jungle. From underpasses in the Bronx to empty lots on Avenue X, the razor-toothed fronds of 10 foot tall Cannabis sativa plants could be seen all around the city happily waving in the wind like any other innocuous and legal weed. But for all their persistence in invading the city's forgotten horticultural corners, these plants were likely waving farewell: New York was no friend to pot.

Over the course of the summer about 41,000 pounds of marijuana were uprooted and destroyed during a campaign to eradicate the psychotropic stuff from vacant lots in the city….Responsible for all this destruction was General Inspector of the city's Sanitation Department, John E. Gleason, who headed up a special "White Wing Squad" charged with harvesting and incinerating the dubious crop….

In this photo, captioned Plenty of Dream Stuff, we see Inspector Gleason and Denis Healy, Sanitation District Superintendent for Greenpoint and Williamsburg, taking the measurements of one especially lofty specimen. At this point in the summer—August 2nd—the Sanitation Department had already dug up "millions of dollars" worth of plants from the "marijuana plantations" of Brooklyn.

Two years later, Gocker adds, Gleason convicted two years later of lying to a grand jury in an extortion case. The general inspector was sentenced to three and a half years behind bars.

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)

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  1. Two years later, Gocker adds, Gleason convicted two years later of lying to a grand jury

    Please please please tell me this was in regards to him arranging to process and sell the uprooted plants as opposed to destroying them.

    1. No… it was for lying about an extortion racket

      Defendant John E. Gleason was convicted, after trial in the Court of General Sessions, on each of the four counts in an indictment charging him with the crime of perjury in the first degree. He was accused of giving false testimony before a Grand Jury that was investigating a conspiracy to extort money from contractors in the business of installing oil burner systems in buildings located in the city of New York.

      Four employees of the fire department, Smith, Keohane, Power and Crew, testified in some detail about the institution in 1947 of a scheme to “bury” applications for permits for installation of fuel oil storage tanks unless and until the contractors made specified payments. They testified that Moran provided a schedule for payments, fixed in *281281 accordance with the size of the tank to be installed. There was also testimony about the necessary transfers of firemen in the department so that they would occupy strategic positions in the conspiracy, the broadening of the scope of operations, the provisions for handling complaints, the amounts collected each week, the amounts retained by the firemen and then transmitted to Moran, and the instructions given by Moran for the conduct of the racket.

      1. Defendant [Gleason] took no part in the Moran conspiracy, and for aught that appears in the record, until its closing days had no knowledge of its very existence; nor, it follows, of the acts and conversations which took place in his absence.

        Power, an employee of the fire department who is claimed to have acted as liaison between the other firemen and defendant, testified that on November 10, 1950, defendant informed him that payments to Moran were to stop and from then on were to go to one Sampson. Sampson was a political leader in the higher ranks of the victorious Experience party ? under whose banner *283283 the new Mayor had been elected.

  2. The 50’s,when Mexicans and colored men were smoking weed and raping white women.Good times. Now of course ,it’s the children in danger.See how easy that is? Children black and brown and yellow and red and white need to be protected .From guns and drugs,and sexting.They may ruin their lives,many will die but ‘the needs of he many out weigh the needs of the few’. I hate fucking star trek.

    1. Nowadays we’re much more intelligent, and we focus on real problems like Mexicans smuggling drugs and Muslims raping white women.

      1. But who smokes the weed, Hugh?!? Oh right, I do. And I’m swarthy! OH NOES I’M THE PROBLEM

        1. I drink beer,wine an scotch,so,I’m better then you.

          1. Yeah, but I drink bourbon and gin martinis, so I’m cooler than you. QED.

            1. I share you love of gin martinis,with olives.

              1. Yes, blue cheese stuffed olives, if possible. And with Crater Lake.

            2. “Gin martini” is a redundant phrase. Martinis are always made with gin. Always. The so-called “vodka martini” is an abomination that only came into existence because of product placement in a James Bond movie.

              1. I agree,and olives,and the blue cheese olives sound great.

      2. There are U.S myths and European problems.

  3. Good song. Clever wordplay lyrically. Nice melody. The singer has a rich baritone voice. More Mr. Sunshine, Jesse!

  4. OT, sorry Jesse:

    Breitbart’s Shapiro went to CSULA to speak despite the U’s president trying to cancel his speech. Protesters pulled a fire alarm, blocked students from attending. Police had to escort Shapiro and attendees out of venue for their safety.

    There’s video.

    “If this sort of thing happened during classes at this university, the kid who pulled the fire alarm would be off this campus so fast it would make your head spin,” Shapiro said. “But not you out there, the protesters, the special magical leftist children protected from the consequences of living in the real world with my taxpayer dollars. You get to shut us down for disagreeing with your thug tactics and your nasty, pathetic, evil ideology.”

    1. I can imagine the things he will say now.

      This will be nuclear powered Streisand effect.

      Kick their ass Ben.


        Apologies for the spanish subtitles. I’m lazy and it was the first thing that popped up.

        1. Drunk,fat and lazy is no way to go through life son.

          1. Eh, two outta three ain’t bad.

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  6. OT
    Christie is on TV endorsing Trump, guess he’s looking for an AG appointment.

    1. So,hell on earth?

  7. Between ’64 & ’68 I eradicated as much evil weed as I could find in Brooklyn. Then moved on to other parts of the planet, eradicating all the way.

    1. I thank you sir,for you service.

  8. John E. Gleason, who headed up a special “White Wing Squad”

    BANG! ZOOM! Straight to da moon, Alice!!

  9. “razor-toothed fronds “?

    As someone who has actually touched marijuana leaves, I can assure the writer for the Times that they are neither razor-shaped nor remotely sharp.

    I’d give him “saw-toothed” as a reference to shape, but … no razor has a serrated edge; it’s against the entire point of a razor.

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