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If you’ve been part of the New York cannabis community, chances are you’ve crossed paths with the trendsetters and changemakers at Happy Munkey. Whether through their lounge, events, community education, or public advocacy, Happy Munkey is an integral part of the cannabis conversation in NYC. At The Travel Agency, we’re proud to call them partners in building an equitable cannabis industry that represents real New Yorkers — this is their story.

 

An image on brown background with white and red text. The image contains a quote from Vladimir Bautista, CEO and co-founder of Happy Munkey. The quote says, “We’re the heart of New York cannabis. We speak for the culture and the people because we are of the culture and the people. We’ve been here all our lives and it’s the New York state of mind that inspires us every day.”

 

Born and raised in NYC, from legacy to legal

Happy Munkey is NYC through and through, tracing its roots to the city’s legacy market. Originating as a speakeasy in a Times Square recording studio inspired by the cafe culture and cannabis hospitality of Amsterdam, Happy Munkey first sought to bring the cannabis community together in 2017.

 

“We had the real estate, the cannabis, and the network, so we thought ‘let’s throw an event and see what happens,’” said Vladimir Bautista, CEO and co-founder of Happy Munkey.

 

That first event was so successful that Bautista and co-founder Ramon Reyes decided to host them monthly, then weekly. Suddenly, Happy Munkey was hosting events nightly, bringing together 200 to 300 cannabis consumers seven days a week.

 

“We knew we were onto something bigger than ourselves … it was like a movement,” Bautista said.

 

The lounge operated until the COVID-19 pandemic affected its operations. But with its own podcast, email newsletter, merchandise, and apparel — plus all the events it puts on around New York and the U.S. — Happy Munkey continued, and continues, to have an indelible influence on cannabis in the Big Apple.

 

“We’re the heart of New York cannabis. We speak for the culture and the people because we are of the culture and the people,” Bautista said. “We’ve been here all our lives and it’s the New York state of mind that inspires us every day.”

 

When the adult-use legalization wave finally reached New York, Happy Munkey joined in advocacy for a bill that prioritized the original New York City cannabis community. Working alongside figures like cannabis pioneer Steve DeAngelo and Founder of Black Lives Matter Greater NY Walter “Hawk” Newsome, Happy Munkey petitioned for a bill grounded in social equity that prioritized small, local operators, allowed people to grow cannabis at home, and created space for them to consume together in consumption lounges.

 

“Now we have the MRTA [Marihuana Regulation and Tax Act (MRTA)], which is one of the most equitable bills in the country,” Bautista said. “And I think New York is going to be one of the biggest markets in the country.”

 

New York City, cannabis capital of the world

New York’s approach to legalizing cannabis is unique. In other states, large multi-state operators (MSOs) with vertically integrated operations were often prioritized first. However, the MRTA established that the first round of adult-use cultivation and retail licenses would go to social equity applicants, those tied to a not-for-profit organization, and small, local operators. This gives New York the opportunity to establish a distinctive cannabis culture based in the community unlike any newly legal market before it.

 

“New York City will be the cannabis capital of the world,” Bautista said. “It’s the first time in the country the smaller players are having the first bite at the apple —— usually it’s the MSOs that grow first. It hasn’t been perfect and there’s a long way to go, but I’m optimistic.”

 

“We value our relationships with our partners on both the legacy and legal side of the industry. Take for example how closely we’ve worked with The Travel Agency ever since they opened, from our being a part of their ‘Friends and Family’ party to marching with them at the NYC Cannabis Parade & Rally and their support of our events,” he added.

 

To ensure New York cannabis culture stays New York in nature, Happy Munkey is continuing its work in bringing the community together through events like its recent 7/10 Sensual Soiree in partnership with the Museum of Sex. These events serve as an opportunity to further the mission of connecting cannabis consumers, cultivators, retailers, and brands to keep New York cannabis culture at the forefront of its industry, Bautista said.

 

“We need to make sure people who represent New York City culture stay at the forefront of the licensed industry,” Bautista said. “The licensed operators need to make sure they’re hiring people who get New York and that customers can spend their dollars with people aligned with their values.”

 

Ultimately, the focus on preserving New York’s cannabis culture isn’t just a matter of tradition for Bautista. It’s about the struggle against cannabis prohibition and the War on Drugs, and all those who were harmed because of it. Now that prohibition has fallen in New York City, it’s up to us to honor that history as we build a legal market.

 

“We need to remember that we stand on the backs of the many people who died, the 40,000 people still in prison today, and all the blood, sweat, and tears people put in for the last 80 years to create this $5 billion market,” Bautista said. “As long as everybody keeps that in mind and makes that their north star, I’m optimistic it will work out really well.”

 

Creating a New York cannabis community, together

New York cannabis is proudly and fiercely local. Happy Munkey is a standard bearer for New York City cannabis and the community, leading the way to create a market here that represents the people who built it in the first place. It’s the real New Yorkers like you that make this community so unique, and we celebrate each of you every day.

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