SF Mission’s Shambhala reopens as recreational pot store

Al Shawa and Hillary Ronen (right) celebrate Shambhala's foray into the recreational pot business. Photo by Julian Mark

On Friday, politicians, merchants and stoners alike flowed into Shambhala for its grand opening as a recreational pot store.

For Shambhala’s owner, Al Shawa, the road has been long and bumpy — starting first with a tense battle with the federal government and, more recently, his state license was withheld while other stores began sales Jan. 6.

But today, that was all in the rearview mirror. “I feel like a champ,” Shawa said as new recreational customers filled the store. “We did it.”

Shawa said he has, at times, felt overwhelmed by the influx of businesses since the store converted to adult recreational use on Monday. “We had a huge spike in businesses,” Shawa said. “It’s been nonstop. It’s been great.”

District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen cut the day’s ceremonial ribbon. “It’s a historic moment that is the beginning of a trend towards the decriminalization of drug use,” she told Mission Local.  

“Finally, after decades of a failed drug war that made no sense and destroyed entire communities, the legalization of cannabis is the first step toward righting that wrong,” she added

Ronen said she would like to see more cannabis stores open in the Mission. “And I would like to see those stores owned and operated by people who were victims of the drug war,” she said, adding that her office is working on the effort.

Phil Lesser, president of the Mission Merchants Association, said that Shawa’s story is typical of merchants on Mission Street, as Shawa is an immigrant who built several successful businesses from almost nothing.

Lesser added that Shawa was a pioneer of the business, who opened when dispensaries were under attack from the Feds.

Indeed, after the federal government attempted to seize Shambhala’s building in 2012, Shawa sued the Feds and won two years later.   

“He could have folded up shop at that time, but he held his ground, and we’re here today because he did that,” Lesser said.

Briana Lynn, 24, had just finished paying at the counter, shaking the salesperson’s hand and stuffing some products into her backpack. It was her first time buying cannabis products at a store in San Francisco.

“I’ve been looking forward to this forever,” said Lynn, a Mission resident. “I’ve been smoking for a long time, and it’s nice to just walk down the street from my house.”

She said she wasn’t planning on buying much, but when she walked in, she got really excited and ended up buying cannabis-infused nacho chips, cotton candy and root beer.

Lynn said her next stop was Dolores Park. “We’re gonna have a root beer and just go have fun,” she said.




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