WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, Manhattan — Eleven months after New York State legalized recreational marijuana, the state opened the application process for licenses to sell cannabis in the state.

The application portal opened Thursday morning for a cannabis sales system that the state says is meant to prioritize applicants whose lives were negatively impacted when marijuana sales were illegal. 

At least two of the first applicants said they’re convinced that the process will help to right past wrongs.
Ramon Reyes and Vlad Bautista are co-owners of the cannabis-themed entertainment and apparel company Happy Munkey. It’s about to celebrate its fifth anniversary. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, however, the two men sold marijuana on street corners uptown in Hamilton Heights and Washington Heights. Back then, doing so was illegal.  

They both acquired criminal records for their drug sales. Their offenses from the past have now not only been reversed, they may very well pay off if a license application review board is impressed with their applications. Those applications required that they prove they’ve got past marijuana convictions. 

“We had to provide a certificate of disposition,” Reyes said in an interview. “It has to be very clear,” he continued, about proof of conviction in the cannabis application, “that it was a clear conviction.” 

Bautista said that the fact that the first round of license applications was devoted to people with past marijuana convictions was “like a dream come true.” He said that it redeemed the messages of the past in which marijuana vendors were seen negatively. 

“I want to thank New York for one of the most progressive applications I’ve seen throughout the country,” he said. 

The state’s about-face could end up paying big dividends for people like Bautista and Reyes, who were wronged in the past, as the executive director of New York State’s Office of Cannabis Management pointed out in a news conference on Thursday.

“This will be the biggest market in the world,” Chris Alexander, the executive director said, adding that the potential value of the New York market is projected to be between $5 billion and $15 billion. 

Alexander said that his office expects that the number of applications will far outstrip the 100 to 150 licenses it will grant in the first round of issuance. 

The deadline for applying is Sept. 26.  Alexander spelled out what’s next. 

“In the next several weeks after closing” of the process, he said, “we will contact the highest scoring applicants.”

A panel of application readers will score each of the applications. 

Reyes and Bautista submitted their applications right when the portal for them opened at 8 a.m. on Thursday. They said that they’d worked on their applications for at least a month, and hope to score highest of the lot. 

If they do, and eventually earn a cannabis vending license, they said they intend to widely share the profits that are likely to follow.

“Our whole team is based out of Washington Heights, Harlem, The Bronx,” Reyes said, listing where different employees of his and Bautista’s current business, Happy Munkey, hail from. “We’re all from this neighborhood.  So we’re able to take these people and put them in our stores.”