Ali Jamalian’s kingdom might best be described as that of a mad cannabis scientist.
On Tuesday, in a former photo studio on Bryant Street, the budding entrepreneur and a few trusted colleagues paused from their work to eagerly peek at the contents of a micron filter bag. Inside were the results from one of several hash-making techniques currently being employed by Sunset Connect.
For now, the hash they create is infused with locally-grown indoor Garlic Grove and packaged into pre-rolls. Priced with affordability in mind, the artwork on the tubes resembles Muni bus tickets. These pre-rolls (in addition to a non-hash version) are set to be the first in a tantalizing line-up of forthcoming products Jamalian and Sunset Connect have planned.
Other items in various stages of completion include crumbles, a fast-acting gel, infused sugar, fruit leather, and a dehydrated yogurt drop. All are the creations of Jamalian, who has been growing cannabis and conducting culinary experiments since banding together with a group of like-minded cannabuddies while attending USF. They started growing in the Sunset District in 2011, which would ultimately inspire them to brand the outfit as Sunset Connect in 2014.
At this point, however, the name and Jamalian are one in the same. In addition to growing medical cannabis, Jamalian’s other forays into the market include creating a line of infused organic spirulina flakes (but don’t call it fish food) and being appointed to San Francisco’s Cannabis Oversight Committee. His chief goal? To create and release a varied line of unique, San Francisco-made cannabis products.
His trials in the world of legalized cannabis have rarely been easy — and he’s not entirely at liberty to discuss all of his battles — but standing in his Bryant facility with orders to fulfill, it was clear that the day Jamalian has long awaited may finally be at hand.
In part, it’s thanks to his own work as an advocate for San Francisco’s equity program. Intended to provide equal footing to applicants previously harmed by drug policies (which disproportionately targeted communities of color), the equity program is not limited to retail dispensaries. Instead, it provides for those interested in other aspects of the industry, which include distribution, manufacturing, and delivery, to establish businesses as well. For clarity, a cultivator grows cannabis while a manufacturer processes and refines it into a final, non-flower product.
As San Francisco’s first equity-owned manufacturer and distributor, Jamalian is hoping to partner with other local equity businesses who may need those services to create collaborative cannabis products that are truly made in San Francisco.
For now, he says his current goal is to ensure customers can find his product.
“From my experience in the alcohol and food industry, I know that if you can’t compete for shelf space, you’ll fail,” he says during an interview at Sunset Connect’s headquarters.
His concern arises over the competition for featured spots on dispensary shelves. For shops that elect to adopt “pay-to-play” practices, in which a brand purchases prominent display space, the costs are usually far beyond what anyone but the largest names in the game can afford.
Such arrangements are the reason that Jesse Henry, co-founder of Barbary Coast, has thus far declined to do any brand-related in-store promotion at his flagship SoMa store.
“Over the years, we’ve been approached by some of the bigger, statewide non-equity brands to do in-store promotion,” Henry wrote in a text to SF Weekly, “but it never felt like the right fit. However, when Ali approached us about carrying his brand, which is not only local and SF equity, but an excellent product, we jumped at the opportunity.”
The result is Barbary Coast’s new equity display, which will feature products from Sunset Connect as well as those made by other local, equity-owned companies like Emerald Sky and Gift of Doja .
Jamalian was effusive in his praise for Henry, as well as ownership for BASA and Mission Cannabis Club, who are also supporting Sunset Connect’s initial launch. There was also a shout-out to CW Analytics — a lab offering discounts to cannabis equity businesses.
Given the winking motto Jamalian’s company has adopted (“Since Before We Could Tell”), it’s fair to say the German native turned San Franciscan has deep ties across the local cannabis community, many of which predate the onset of adult-use sales in 2018.
Regardless, he sounded genuinely touched as he emphasized what it meant to have the support of these established city dispensaries at an extremely volatile moment for the industry at large and his venture in particular.
“I’ve had a ton of support from local retailers,” he says. “The San Francisco cannabis community has really come together on this and I’m just endlessly grateful to them for that.”
For Jamalian, the idea isn’t limited solely by whether a company is equity.
There is also a strong desire on his part to simply see locally-created products celebrated as such. That’s what led to the Muni graphics, the local reference in the company name, and his pleasure in partnering with dispensaries that likewise see the importance in nurturing the local cannabis ecosystem.
Adding to the urgency are the economic repercussions of the ongoing pandemic. While cannabis as a whole has largely weathered the storm thus far (to say nothing of wildfires), the situation still poses an existential threat to small operators just now launching their brand.
It’s another reason, according to Henry, why the time was right to act.
“During these incredibly difficult times,” he said, “we want to do everything we can to continue supporting equity. We all need to band together to make it through COVID and provide opportunities to those that haven’t been given an opportunity before.
As of now, Sunset Connect is currently slated to launch at Barbary Coast’s Mission St. location on Oct. 2. The store’s equity shelf, however, is already up and running and will feature an ongoing selection of local products from equity-owned businesses.