Inside, there were some of Vincent Van Gogh’s famous paintings. Outside, there was a patio where guests could enjoy a branded, pre-rolled joint that came in a special gift bag.
The hospitality and media startup Happy Munkey is capitalizing on New York State’s legalization of marijuana for adults 21 and older, as it hosted private, ticketed events on Aug. 11 and Aug. 18 at NYC’s Original Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit, just north of the South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan.
Both nights sold out with a combined crowd of about 1,000 people who shelled out $125 for a VIP ticket and $200 for a super-VIP package. Guests received a gift bag containing a variety of now-legal substances such as pre-rolled joints in tubes decorated with images of Van Gogh’s sunflowers and the Happy Munkey’s smiling primate logo.
Happy Munkey CEO Vladimir Bautista told MarketWatch the event proves that cannabis is ready for prime time, and can to spice up events, exhibits and hospitality venues. It is more than just a retail product on its own, with a whole ecosystem of food, clothing, paraphernalia, health and beauty products and even beverages.
“It is the future!” said Bautista, who offered a firm handshake and entrepreneurial energy with an enthusiastic greeting. Happy Munkey launched about four years ago, well before New York legalized marijuana in 2021, but the company’s private parties are now being welcomed by an exhibition that has drawn crowds in multiple cities, he said.
“When you have the community—the people—behind you, you can do anything,” he said. “We’re just trying to make people happy.”
No alcohol was served at the event, but there were mocktails and plenty of cannabis products to be had to add to the intoxicating atmosphere. People wore masks inside, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidelines and outside, they refrained from passing anything around.
Guests smoked at the Happy Munkey Consumption Lounge, on the outside patio of the exhibit on Manhattan’s Pier 36. A trip into the exhibit then followed for guests to take in the undulating and vibrantly colored images and music in the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit, the critically acclaimed creation of video artist Massimiliano Siccardi.
On the second of the two nights, the crowd wandered between the exhibit and the patio. People seemed a bit more interested in socializing outside, where conversations and cannabis were accompanied by views of the East River and the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges.
Gatherings such as these will no doubt play a role as the U.S. cannabis industry grows to $85 billion in sales by 2030, according to an estimate from Cowen Group. Other estimates put annual growth in the U.S. legal cannabis business in the neighborhood of 18%. These prospects have been fueling investor interest in a healthy selection of pot stocks, such as Tilray Inc. (NAS:TLRY) , Canopy Growth Corp. (NAS:CGC) , Green Thumb Industries Inc. (OTC:GTBIF) , Curaleaf Holdings Inc. (OTC:CURLF) , MedMen Enterprises Inc. (OTC:MMNFF) and Acreage Holdings Inc. (OTC:ACRHF) .
Harder to calculate is the potential impact of cannabis on travel, live events, bars and restaurants and leisure activities. Consumption lounges remain a nascent business with potential for wide impact, especially with a rebounding hospitality market, still recovering from COVID-19
Pot remains illegal on the federal level, stymying the industry’s growth. But bigger states, like New York and New Jersey plan to start issuing cannabis retail licenses, which will drive down prices through competition.
Liquor makers have had pot on their radar for years Since 2017, Constellation Brands Inc. (NYS:STZ) started buying its large stake in Canopy Growth . Big tobacco companies such as Imperial Brands (LON:UK:IMB) have made some investments in the cannabis space as well. Cannabis also touches media, live events, film, TV and retailing — not to mention the vast health, beauty and agriculture sectors.
Samantha Gleit, a partner at cannabis law specialist Feuerstein Kulick LLP, said capital has been difficult for growing cannabis companies to get from traditional bank loans. It is impossible to use cannabis to secure debt because it’s still banned by the federal government. It is also difficult for cannabis companies to have bank accounts since revenue from the sector is still regarded as drug money in the federal banking system.
It is possible, however, to build state-specific loan structures. Some lenders have been quietly providing services under banking guidelines for cannabis laid out during the Obama administration. Family offices and high net worth individuals, as well other private investment firms, have provided debt financing to the sector.
As cannabis becomes more widely distributed on a legal basis, it won’t be enough for venues just to sell it to attract crowds, since it’ll be so widely available.
That’s where Happy Munkey comes in, combining content with cannabis through live events and other gatherings to make experiences more compelling.
Amanda Reyes, board president at the Cannabis Cultural Association in New York City, said Happy Munkey is helping to normalize cannabis after decades of prohibition.
“You used to have to go to the seediest part of town for this,” she said as she looked at the revelers puffing marijuana cigarettes. “When I go to an event like this, I don’t want to drink, I want to smoke.”
The Global X Cannabis exchange-traded fund (NAS:POTX) has dropped 21.1% over the past three months but has gained 11.3% over the past 12 months. In comparison, the S&P 500 index (S&P:SPX) has tacked on 6.9% the past three months and rallied 30.8% the past year.