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Sunset Connect Buys the Ticket, Takes the Ride

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With a tagline featuring a founding year “Since before we could tell,” Sunset Connect alludes to the fluctuating legal status of the world’s most favored flower. When I visit the manufacturing space in San Francisco—a former lambskin condom factory and, later, a photography studio—the bright white walls are a welcome break from the dark gray day outside. It’s the last day of January 2024, and we’re in the middle of an atmospheric river called a “Pineapple Express,” but from founder Ali Jamalian’s upstairs office that oversees the space, I can only hear taps of the rain outside. Jamalian’s broad smile and kind eyes are the type that light up a room. Coupled with that, he’s a great storyteller. Through personal trials and triumphs, Jamalian has grown into a voice that remembers the outlaws of pot’s past. And, with his brand Sunset Connect, he’s proudly repping the profound legacy that San Francisco represents in shaping the availability of cannabis around the world.

“You have to be an activist,” Jamalian says of operating a cannabis company in the City by the Bay. “You have to advocate for the industry.”

Locals will first notice that Sunset Connect’s logo and branding borrow inspiration from Muni, San Francisco’s public transportation system, including buses, trains, and cable cars. The script on “Sunset”is in the same curving worm-like font as the iconic 1975 Muni logo. And, with packaging showcasing the design of paper Muni bus transfer tickets that were retired in 2016, its brand identity stands as a sort of insider call back to an earlier time. Sunset Connect has evolved over the years but is now putting out hash-infused dogwalkers and trim pre-rolls. The pre-rolls retail at $5.

“I think what we really pride ourselves in is the separation, getting all the fan leaves and the sticks and stems out and really being left with sugar leaf and small buds,” Jamalian says as we walk the manufacturing floor. “My whole point was like, ‘Dude, you’ve got to be able to get something to people at a fair price that they can afford every day.’”

Jamalian believes the batch size, 100 grams, is critical to the salability of his 1-gram pre-rolls and says he’s selling about 25,000 each week. 

“We firmly believe that the success of our joints is that they’re hand-topped and twisted,” Jamalian says as I watch an employee complete packing the herb down and adding the wick-like twist of paper at the top. “I think that’s what gives you the good draw and the fact that we grind it in tiny batches of 100 grams.”

Sunset Connect hybrid pre-rolls.

The Connect

Steered by hippies and activists who sold grass in the 1970s and provided cannabis to those in medical need in the 1990s, San Francisco stands as a significant touchpoint for the medical marijuana movement. Actions that took place there and in the greater San Francisco Bay Area led California to become the first state to approve medical marijuana in 1996.

The Sunset Connect brand was born in California’s medical marijuana era and was granted a state license as a manufacturing and distribution company in the adult-use cannabis marketplace in 2020. Based in the city’s Sunset District and known as The Sunset Connect, Jamalian and his best friends since freshman year at the University of San Francisco brought cuts of classic strains to medical marijuana dispensaries circa 2014. This included White Widow—an extremely popular strain in the late ’90s and early 2000s following its win at the 1995 Cannabis Cup—and a strain breeders Mr. Sherbinski and Jigga created in a Sunset District garage around 2010, Sunset Sherbert.

While the Sunset Connect team went official in 2014, they had been growing pot together for some time before that. Back in 1999, the feds charged Jamalian with possession and intent to distribute weed, and since he was a German-Iranian with a green card, he faced deportation. Spooked from the ordeal, he returned to Germany for a time and returned to the United States when his friends called him back into the game.

“At that point, the boys were already blowing up like 15 houses in the Sunset and around town and doing really well with it, vending to dispensaries, but mostly moving it black market,” Jamalian says. “So I came back… I started with one house on 47th [avenue] and about two to three years later about four to five houses and then between us we had like 30-35 homes.”

In 2018, when Jamalian started working to bring Sunset Connect into the adult-use cannabis marketplace, he began to get politically involved with organizations designed to advocate for the industry. But within those groups, such as the now-defunct California Growers Association, he says he often found business owners campaigning on behalf of their companies rather than the community.

Sunset Connect is making plans to cultivate its own flowers again.

“Everyone that I worked with was moving weight and risking their lives to move weight,” Jamalian says. “And most of them didn’t get to transition…The heads in the Sunset weren’t being considered because we didn’t have warehouses; we had homes. Because back then, the criminal liability of growing at home was a lot less than the criminal liability of a 90-light warehouse.”

His role as a public-facing cannabis grower took the next step when Jamalian connected with Jane Kim, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, who was running against acting mayor London Breed in 2018.

“When I met Jane, I told her I was already trying to build this place up and go legal, and she’s like, ‘In this city, you have to become an activist,’” Jamalian says. “She really taught me the way around City Hall.”

In January 2020, Jamalian became a member of the San Francisco Cannabis Oversight Committee, a representative group of cannabis company leaders that advise the board of supervisors and the mayor regarding implementing and enforcing city laws and regulations relating to cannabis. Beyond his political work, he’s always looking to network inside the cannabis community and puts on a monthly gathering in a Sunset District bar for budtenders.

“I think building a community, not to sell your product, it gives people an emotional connection to your brand,” Jamalian says. “We were the underdog, and we still are, and I think people like to root for the underdog.”

Kim’s cousin, Sam Joo, now works for Jamalian, handling compliance and production. Upon meeting him, Joo is locked in deep on the computer, navigating a change in California policy that vastly reduced the number of labs authorized by the state to test cannabis. When we chat about the current scene, he uses a phrase that became a touchpoint in describing California cannabis before its adult-use stage, the Wild West.

The Sunset Connect facility.

“We don’t have a choice but to build our production around what the labs are capable of doing,” Joo says. “I guess the excuse is that it’s new. I don’t know if other industries have faced what the cannabis industry is facing, but it feels like the Wild West, you know, where nobody really knows what they’re doing.”

The fluctuating nature of the regulations in the state’s adult-use cannabis industry has compounded with other factors, such as a dip in wholesale prices, in driving many longtime weed companies out of the market. Cannabis cultivators in California are disappearing in droves, and San Francisco is no exception to those statistics. Reporting done by the Cannabis Business Times in March 2023 shows that the state has lost thousands of cultivation licenses in recent years.

Jamalian tells me he’s learned that surviving in the cannabis industry means you have to be willing to expand and contract. He is readying for his brand to grow and plans to cultivate and release flowers under the Sunset Connect brand again soon. With that anticipated launch, he’s bringing back Dosi-Pie, a Velvet Pie and Do-Si-Dos cross. It’s the strain he says the brand was most well-known for at dispensaries back in the day. Sunset Connect’s current version has a peppery spice on the nose and tastes how sandalwood incense smells.

Sunset Connect’s current focus is affordable pre-rolls.

Now in his second term on the oversight committee, Jamalian uses his decades of experience in the city’s cannabis scene to advocate for the weed industry that remains in San Francisco.

“The market is on a downward slope; there’s going to be 30% of brands who disappear,” he says. “People are looking for good flowers from San Francisco. Also, there’s not a lot of outfits here anymore producing really good flowers.

“So, while San Francisco contracted, I think similar to the AI boom, cannabis companies are about to bloom again. Because the few that are left, they have a foot in the market, they’re now established, and people are like, ‘Wait, San Francisco is where the best weed in the world all comes from.’”

This article was originally published in the May 2024 issue of High Times Magazine.





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