“Man’s experience with marijuana had no negative effects” — Democrat and Chronicle, December 22nd, 2018

“Man’s experience with marijuana had no negative effects” — Democrat and Chronicle, December 22nd, 2018
1 May 03, 1987

From Sam’s column in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, “LASTING PLEASURES.” May 03, 1987

For decades, Sam Abrams has been a fixture in the Rochester cultural and academic community.  Sam was a professor of literature at the Rochester Institute of Technology from 1978 to 2005.  There, he founded RIT’s literary journal Signatures and convinced Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and Ted Turner to visit and speak on campus.

A Whitman scholar and prolific poet, Sam has variously been one of the original workshop leaders at The Poetry Project, a longshoreman, a TV journalist, columnist for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, a union laborer, a communal organic farmer, a jail cell mate of Dr. Spock when they were arrested for civil disobedience during anti-Vietnam War demonstrations and a prolific letter writer to the opinion pages, local, national and international.  Exquisite Corpse: A Journal of Letters and Life described Sam as “The Unrepentant Revolutionary and Classics professor SAM ABRAMS.”


Sam’s lines on the Poets Walk on University Avenue. From Is Public Input to the D & C a Dead Letter?   Our article describes Sam’s prolific letters-to-the editor: “Although Sam can be a tad smug at moments, he has won his letter writing spurs.”

For all his glittering resume — or because of the glitter — some have suspected that Sam has smoked marijuana at some points in his life. One clue was the 2003 publication of The Old Pot Head Poems. The first lines of the dust jacket blurb read:

Louis Armstrong once said, “Marijuana is an assistant, a friend.” These poems riff off that theme, a fifty-year-long set of improv-collaborations between two old friends, Miss Mary Jane and her man, Sam.

The Old Pothead Poems, 2003, (Donald S. Ellis Books) by Sam Abrams. Available at Yesterday's Muse in Webster, NY

The Old Pothead Poems, 2003, (Donald S. Ellis Books) by Sam Abrams. Available at Yesterday’s Muse in Webster, NY

Amazon.com includes a one line review of Pot Head by Paul Krassner, a founding member of the Yippies:

It [Pot Head] just goes to show that smoking marijuana can enhance creativity, compassion and commitment.

From The Old Pothead

From The Old Pothead Poems

The publication itself is not definitive proof. The character Sam is only a poetic character and not Sam Abrams himself.

I met Sam when we both taught the Senior Seminar at RIT in 2004 and 2005, occasionally seeing him wander campus Whitman-esque-like.

During one of those Seminars, I invited Chris Maj to visit the classes. As described by the City‘s Mary Anne Towner, “Chris Maj: the Dems’ long shot,” Chris was expelled from RIT for using vulgarities (“F Bombs”) when demonstrating against the school’s association with the military and calling the-then Louise Slaughter Center for Integrated Manufacturing Study, the “Slaughter House.” During his time at RIT, in 1998 Chris was president of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy

RIT Students Rally in Support of Shea Gunther, May 1998

RIT Students Rally in Support of the Rochester Cannabis Coalition, May 1998. The RCC  originated in 1997 as an unofficial, campus-based, student organization at RIT. In 1998, the organization was approved by the student government to become an official campus-based organization, eligible for institute funding pending approval by RIT. RIT President Al Simone pulled the application for “administrative review.” Finally, Simone overrode the student government and denied the club’s application. This set off a storm of protest from the members of the RCC. (from Rochester_Cannabis_Coalition, Rocwiki.com) See An eerie quiet at Rochester Institute of Technology

In 2005, Maj would run in the Rochester Democratic Mayoral primary and then as candidate on the local Red White & Blue Party line. Chris received 412 votes, or 1% of the vote in the general election. Chris during the 2005 Democratic Mayoral campaign, from "An Audience of 500 Greets Contenders for the Mayoralty of Rochester." Rochester.indymedia.com

Chris Maj during the 2005 electoral campaign, from “An Audience of 500 Greets Contenders for the Mayoralty of Rochester.” (Rochester.indymedia.com)Legalization of marijuana was a primary platform of the RW&B party. For his City interview, Chris wore a hat with marijuana-leaf medallions, the same hat he brought to the Senior Seminar. During the seminar, Chris strongly defended legalization, but at the same time, refused to say whether he himself ever smoked “weed.”

Chris has since left Rochester for Denver, Colorado (surprise!) where he is an active Rand Paul supporter.

Afterwards, Chris told me Sam was the only professor at RIT with whom he really bonded. Bonded over what is unknown, but Chris seems like Sam’s kind of guy. Guessing that Sam was at that May 1998 protest over the treatment of the Rochester Cannabis Coalition.

Furthermore — as suspicious evidence —  four of Sam’s letters to the Democrat and Chronicle from 1987 -2018 defend the use of marijuana:

Nov 18 1987

Nov 18 1987

Oct 12, 2011

Oct 12, 2011

3 Nov 05, 2017

3 Nov 05, 2017

Jan 26 2018

Jan 26 2018

Yet — until today — none of the letters reference any personal use. But today, Sam writes:

I smoked pot daily from age 14 until I ended up in this nursing home a year ago.

December 22nd, 2018

December 22nd, 2018

Case closed.

NOTE: Recently, my father, Eugene Kramer, confessed — if not proudly —  he once smoked marijuana with Louis Armstrong.


Eugene Kramer (first row, last, rear) Commodore Music Shop at 136 East 42 Street, NYC with Louis Armstrong (1947) from On the road from Texas to Brighton for the love of jazz


An eerie quiet at Rochester Institute of Technology

Is Public Input to the D&C a Dead Letter? by Michael Nighan

For you, Talker buys the D & C digital archives. And Noam Chomsky

About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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