“We are the prime example of Legacy to Legal,” says a visibly proud Vladimir Bautista. “We are the heart and voice of cannabis culture in New York.”
The Happy Munkey co-founder and native of Harlem speaks at Pier 36, the gallery and performance venue in Lower Manhattan that hosted celebrated events this summer. The current showcase is the very cyber-chic Immersive Van Gogh, a presentation that brings the artist’s creations to life with moving images projected onto walls, floors and ceilings.
The two Happy Munkey After Hours parties on August 11th and 18th signaled that the New York underground scene was growing up. It was also a kind of cross-fertilization between New Amsterdam and Old Amsterdam.
Happy Munkey’s origins lie in a trip by the group’s other co-founder, Ramon Reyes, from Washington Heights, to the Dutch city that happens to be home to the Van Gogh Museum. He was overwhelmed by the sight of people getting overtly high in the cannabis cafes. Reyes, who was already a veteran cannabis trader in the illegal market, recalls, “I thought we needed this shit here in New York!”
The following year, 2017, Happy Munkey was registered as a media and trademark in New York and New Jersey. A little below the radar, they also hosted “smoke-free” gatherings where herb lovers could gather in a safe, friendly, and prejudice-free space.
With the passage of the New York State Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA) earlier this spring, Happy Munkey saw that the time had come for above-ground “consumption lounges”. On the Pier 36 affairs, smoking and vaping was allowed (and encouraged) on the riverside balcony – albeit not in the interior areas of the property. Since licensed adult cannabis sales in New York have not yet started, the event was officially BYOC (Bring Your Own Cannabis). However, Schwag bags contained such goodies as CBD-infused chocolates.
Happy Munkey co-founder Vladimir Bautista speaks to a camera at the Immersive Van Gogh After Hours Party.
PHOTO Happy Munkey
Happy Munkey is now producing a podcast and an online magazine. These efforts are specifically aimed at promoting the presence of colored people in the burgeoning legal cannabis business of New York State.
Bautista emphasizes Happy Munkey’s activist commitment. “We got thousands of signatures for MRTA,” he says. Alluding to a more conservative legalization bill pushed by New York’s now disgraced and outgoing Governor Andrew Cuomo, Bautista adds, “We fought for the right version, with social justice provisions to help the common people.”
Keith Hurd, Director of Marketing for Immersive Van Gogh, also spoke to Cannabis Now on the balcony of Pier 36, where the Manhattan Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty were visible through the haze of cannabis smoke and steam.
Regarding the founding of the After Hours party, Hurd recalls that after seeing the exhibition with its floating images and bright colors, “People said, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have this after smoking experience?’ – and now in New York you can. The next thing I know is someone put me in touch with Happy Munkey, and here we are. ”
Immersive Van Gogh was developed by Italian digital artist Massimiliano Siccardi in collaboration with David Korins, the creative designer of the Broadway hit musical Hamilton. The show opens in other cities across the country this summer as well. And Happy Munkey is considering teaming up with the exhibit for similar after-hours events in some of those cities – the group’s first foray beyond New York.
“We want to go to every other state it’s legal in,” says Bautista, suggesting that Denver may come first.