Marijuana legalization in New York City came about when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) into law. In March, Cuomo legalized adult use of recreational marijuana throughout New York. Advocates for equitable marijuana legislation consider this a landmark victory.
Why? Because the bill automatically expunged all cannabis-related convictions. In addition, it will divert 40 percent of its revenue toward marginalized communities in the form of grants.
Who is Vladimir Bautista?
Vladimir Bautista is cofounder of Happy Munkey and he is 2020’s Top Cannabis Innovator of the Year. “People like myself that grew up in urban, violent areas,” says Bautista, “have their own version of PTSD. Cannabis helps you deal with those things. But I would’ve never thought [legalization] was possible.”
Marijuana Makes Him Happy
Bautista smoked his first joint in the ‘90s at age 12. He was playing hooky with his older friends. And pot made him happy. Because it put him in a good mood he had fun with the laughs and giggles. Oh, and munchies. So it was a peaceful escape from the rough, urban environment of 139th Street and Broadway in New York City’s Upper West Side.
As he entered his late teens, Bautista found himself confronted by police and arrested more than 20 times simply for consuming cannabis. Because this happens so much around the neighborhood, Bautista and his friends think of it as normal. In his teens, smoking on the street means spending 24 hours in jail.
Marijuana Legalization Makes Him Happier
“Now you can have three ounces on you,” says Bautista. “You can have five pounds in your house, you can smoke anywhere where you smoke cigarettes. It’s like a dream come true.”
The bill originally proposed by Cuomo, the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act (CRTA), was met with disapproval from activists. Many believe a provision requiring jail time for those caught selling marijuana to minors is too punitive.
Those against the CRTA are against a de facto bidding war for marijuana licenses because it disadvantages the underground sellers who want to jump into the legal market. In addition, the bill doesn’t do enough to address the social inequities created by the war on drugs.
“[CRTA] had no social consumption licenses,” says Bautista. “The social consumption piece is so important because in New York we live on top of each other. When you have a [concentration] of [public housing] and apartments that are mostly co-ops, when you have these two components and you don’t give people a reasonable place to smoke, you’re putting them in danger of losing their homes.”
In 2017, Bautista and his cofounder Ramon Reyes held their first Happy Munkey event. Some called it the “Studio 54 of Cannabis.” No alcohol, just weed.
“Us being some of the first people to create the consumption lounge in New York really was an advocacy on its own. Because we brought people together from all walks of life,” says Bautista. “It was the first time that professionals smoked publicly and were in the same room with people from the culture and saw them smoking publicly, which had a major impact on taking away the stigma of cannabis here in New York.”
The New Marijuana Legalization
Regarding the new marijuana legalization, Reyes says, “[I’m] happy to be a part of this historical moment.” Social consumption licenses, delivery licenses, and homegrow of certain cannabis plants are among the distinctive provisions included in MRTA.
“[MRTA] is the most equity-centered legislation that has passed with full legalization,” says Dasheeda Dawson, the Cannabis Supervisor for Portland’s Office of Civic Life. “It goes so far as to include multiple types of licenses, including micro-licenses and delivery licenses, which in a lot of adult-use markets were left out, and have the best opportunity for legacy or underground market operators to transition through those points.”
Dawson says, “The addition of automatic expungement was also important. It was missing in the CRTA, which missed the mark in making sure that people who have previously dealt with incarceration, or any collateral damage as a result of criminalization, get that undone.”
How to Succeed in the Cannabis Industry
Dawson is the bestselling author of How to Succeed in the Cannabis Industry. And she is the creator of The WeedHead™ & Company, a blog-turned-education company that seeks to teach everyone about the cannabis industry. In 2020, Dawson became the third Black woman in the United States to become a cannabis officiator for a city government. Dawson believes that her race brings an essential perspective to cannabis regulation and marijuana legalization.
War on People
“The war on cannabis was really a war on people,” says Dawson. “The arrests were due to cannabis possession, not distribution. And the lies that were told around that were just not the reality. Black and Indigenous and Latinx individuals were targeted and overpoliced through racially-biased enforcement. It is almost impossible, in my opinion, to not take to regulation a policy with that lens. And, as a Black woman, that’s what I understand first and foremost.”
See also: Marijuana Legalization and the 2020 Election: Green Wave Sweeps the United States in Cannabis and Drug Reform
Bautista emphasizes diversity at Happy Munkey and involves people of all walks of life because that’s his vision. So, Bautista is of the believe that weed can remedy our intense divisions in America.
“We are so divided on so many issues and I think cannabis is the great equalizer,” says Bautista. “It brings out the best people of moral principles and the good-hearted people of every race, every sexuality. People need to see that there are still some things like cannabis that can unify us all for a greater good.”