Woman with sunflower in her hair at Happy Munkey x Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit After Hours

The NYC Cannabis Scene—from Legacy to Legal

The NYC cannabis scene has already changed tremendously since New York legalized recreational adult use. New Yorkers are embracing open cannabis consumption everywhere. That ranges from a casual smoke on the street to wine-tasting style rolling classes and high-end infused dining. Happy Munkey was one of the first companies to welcome people to legal consumption at their acclaimed BYOC experience Happy Munkey x Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit After Hours. The company is on a mission to introduce NYC to the cannabis lifestyle through events, podcasts, videos, editorial, and social media. What makes Happy Munkey unique from other NYC cannabis companies is how it brings lovers of the plant together from all walks of life.

The Legendary Vlad Bautista

Happy Munkey is a legacy operator that was co-founded by Vladimir Bautista. Vlad is a formidable advocate, leader, and public speaker in the cannabis space. His relationship with cannabis goes back into his early teens. Now, his connection with the plant is changing the way other people view cannabis. To close out Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re thrilled to get Vlad’s take on NYC cannabis culture and the role of social equity in cannabis legalization.

Vlad Bautista of Happy Munkey

You were one of the pioneers of the NYC cannabis scene—what originally drew you to the plant? 

I started consuming at an early age. I grew up in a rough urban environment (infested with hard drugs). So, the plant helped me cope with my surroundings without getting caught up in all the hard drugs in the area.

Where does the name “Happy Munkey” come from? 

My partner Ramon has always been into animals. So much so that his spirit animal is the monkey. And our goal has always been to make everyone happy. Thus, Happy Munkey. 

What role does your Latine heritage play in your relationship with cannabis? 

Dominican culture is rooted in hospitality. Making people feel good is a big part of how we’re brought up. With that in mind, we center our approach to event planning and hospitality around a culture of giving. We always look to make everyone feel at home and provide a space where everyone is welcome

How would you describe NYC cannabis culture? 

NYC is not just the financial capital of the world. It’s also the cannabis consumption capital of the world. Even though the city operated under the rule of prohibition for over 80 years, we’ve still been able to hold onto that title. In such an intense environment, New Yorkers use cannabis to help balance the fast pace of city life.

How have you seen the NYC cannabis scene change since legalization? 

We’ve seen the stigma slowly fade away. The fact that you can now legally consume cannabis anywhere that cigarettes are allowed has helped show people that it’s not the “drug” that some people assumed it to be. Plus, we’re starting to see cannabis events pop up all over the city, like our bring-your-own-cannabis Happy Munkey After Dark event at the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit New York. It gives people a sense of liberation. 

With Happy Munkey, you’ve built an incredibly loyal and chichi following. What’s your secret? 

We treat people the way we like to be treated. That means, we treat everyone like a VIP.

What, if any, challenges have you faced in the industry? 

The biggest challenges we’ve faced has been the transition from legacy to legal market. In an industry where we’re the veterans, legacy brands still have to constantly prove themselves to novices just entering the market. Also, we often get treated like charity cases rather than being seen as the assets we can be to the corporate sector.

How would you like to see social equity provisions realized in the NYC cannabis industry?

I’d like it to be different from the way it’s been done in other states. That’s because other states haven’t created true opportunity and entrepreneurship. So I hope New York provides social equity businesses with the resources they need to succeed.

What are your personal social equity goals? 

As a legacy operator making the transition to legal cannabis, I personally want to see legacy operators accepted and encouraged to enter the space as well! But, as states come on line for adult cannabis use, I don’t see the door being opened for legacy operators. That needs to change.

How would you describe Happy Munkey in 6 emojis? 

Brown Fist Statue of Liberty Globe 100 See-No-Evil Monkey Wave

Can you elaborate on how you give people an entrance to the NYC cannabis lifestyle? 

Through our events and media, we connect to people on the entrepreneurial side as well as on the consumer side.,

What role do you think your Latine identity plays in Happy Munkey’s success? 

I’m a first-generation American by way of the Dominican Republic. In many Latin American countries, the stigma around cannabis is way worse than in the U.S. And the propaganda runs deep! Basically, if you smoke cannabis, people view it as the same as if you smoked crack. One of the things I hope to help dismantle is the miseducation of our people and our relationship to the plant.

At Happy Munkey, you say you do it for the culture. How does NYC cannabis culture influence and inspire you?  

The people inspire me the most. New Yorkers have an energy that you can only find here. The people of NYC cannabis culture are some of the most innovative in the world. I’m also a little biased. New York isn’t just my home. It’s where I was born.


Vlad Bautista at NYC Cannabis Event

With legalization, what’s next for Happy Munkey in the NYC cannabis scene? 

We’re anxiously waiting for the release of license applications. We plan on applying for several so we can finally touch the plant legally in our city and state.

Images courtesy of Happy Munkey

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