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Beginner’s guide to investing in marijuana stocks and the booming cannabis industry

When it comes to investing in the legal marijuana industry, they dont call it the “green rush” for nothing.

Many analysts are projecting massive growth for the cannabis industry. New Frontier, a Washington DC-based cannabis research firm, expects total US legal cannabis sales to exceed $35 billion by 2025.

In light of such tremendous growth potential, many see marijuana as a golden investment opportunity — but not without risk. It’s important to remember that the use and sale of marijuana, despite state laws, is still illegal under federal law.

Here’s what you need to know about investing in the legal cannabis industry, including the risks and challenges, the biggest companies to watch, and why ETFs could be the safest way to add marijuana stocks to your portfolio.

Basics of the cannabis industry

With each election, more states are voting to legalize some form of marijuana use. A total of 36 states have legalized medical marijuana, with 15 states and Washington DC legalizing cannabis for recreational adult use.

Broadly speaking, there are two markets in the marijuana industry: recreational and medical. While each cater to different markets, both represent growth potential. Whereas medical marijuana stocks involve companies dedicated to the medicinal and therapeutic benefits of the drug, recreational cannabis companies cover products for personal enjoyment.

On the medical side, there’s also a growing market for CBD products. CBD, short for cannabidiol, is the legal, non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis plants that’s taken to ease chronic pain, anxiety, and other ailments.

The growing acceptance of cannabis is not just happening in the US, but all over the world. Grandview Research projects that the global market size for the cannabis industry will reach $73.6 billion by 2027.

Important: In December 2020, the House passed the MORE Act, a bill to federally decriminalize cannabis. If passed in the Senate, the MORE Act would remove cannabis from the list of controlled substances and allow states to decide how to regulate the drug.

“Investors have the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of an emerging industry,” says Michael Shea, CFP at Applied Capital, adding that by getting in early, investors could “capture outsized returns as the industry grows and develops.”

Types of marijuana investments

Currently, the medical marijuana market offers strong short-term income potential. But the recreational side continues to attract investors as more states pass legislation.

There are four major categories of marijuana stocks related to different facets of the cannabis industry:

  • Growers: Companies that own marijuana farms and actively cultivate the plant.
  • Retailers: This includes dispensaries in states where residents can purchase marijuana and cannabis-related products such as edibles, oils, and more.
  • Manufacturers: Companies that provide ancillary support to the industry and are involved in cannabis extraction, product preparation, packaging, and labeling.
  • Drugmakers: Pharmaceutical companies that use biotech to create drugs derived from the cannabis plant.

It should be noted that some companies that are tangentially connected to the marijuana industry may still benefit from its growth. An example would be companies that develop hydroponic technologies, such as GrowGeneration (GRWG).

Risks of investing in marijuana

One of the biggest risks of marijuana investing is that it’s rising popularity makes it a prime target for scam artists. In fact, the SEC has issued a warning that lists several various marijuana-related fraudulent investment schemes including unlicensed sellers, unsolicited investment offers, and market manipulation.

Quick tip: Before you agree to work with a seller of investments, use the SEC’s Investment Advisor Search tool to make sure they’re properly registered and licensed.

Other risks of investing in marijuana to consider:

  • Business risk: As long as marijuana is federally illegal, it will continue to be difficult for marijuana companies to open US bank accounts. Sean van der Wal, Managing Partner at Drawing Capital, explains that this not only makes it more difficult to secure funding, but also means that “many marijuana producers rely on cash,” which “poses a significant risk from a liability and accounting perspective.”
  • Legislative risk: The industry’s growth is tied to legislation. Surprisingly, there’s even some risk involved with the legalization of marijuana. Kenny Polcari, founder and Managing Partner of Kace Capital Advisors, says future taxation is a big question mark. “Right now you can buy marijuana and pay no sales tax.” But “taxes will increase the price of marijuana for the end user.” And, if too high, those added costs could push some consumers away.
  • Valuation risk: Many of the companies that are involved in producing or selling marijuana are young. What should their valuations be? It’s hard to tell. Polcari warns that “if valuations end up too high as the excitement builds, the potential exists that the market will correct and prices will decline.”
  • Demand risk: As more companies enter the market, supply could outpace demand for cannabis products. Van der Wal also says that “enthusiasts may be compelled to produce their own product in small batches for personal consumption” as legalization spreads. This could especially be true if high excise taxes are applied to marijuana sales. And, in these ways, he says “analysts may overstate the total addressable market.”
  • Volatility risk: Marijuana stock prices often swing wildly up and down in short periods of time. This is less likely to be a concern if you plan to hold onto your investments for 10-30 years or more. But if you have a shorter investment horizon, you may want to stay away from volatile investments like marijuana stocks.

How to invest in marijuana

Much like investing in any stock, you’ll need a broker to invest in marijuana. You’ll also want to do your due diligence before choosing investments, which means taking the time to research each company and staying up to date with the latest regulations.

There are two main types of marijuana investments: individual stocks and marijuana ETFs. ETFs allow you to spread your investment among companies across the entire marijuana industry.

If you’re a trader looking to take advantage of short-term price shifts, Polcari says that individual stocks may be the way to go. Otherwise, he prefers ETFs since they don’t require you to pick and choose and run the risk of picking the wrong company.

Marijuana ETFs

Some ETFs seek to provide investment results that correspond to an underlying index while others are actively managed. The advantage of index ETFs is that they tend to have lower expense ratios. But actively managed funds may be able respond faster to marijuana stock news — both positive and negative.

The list below of popular marijuana ETFs includes a mixture of actively managed and index options:

ETF Net Assets
ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF (MJ) $1.44 billion
AdvisorShares Pure US Cannabis ETF (MSOS) $582.68 million
AdvisorShares Pure Cannabis ETF (YOLO) $265.07 million
The Cannabis ETF (THCX) $91.59 million
Global X Cannabis ETF (POTX) $84.36 million

Marijuana stocks

Because US marijuana companies are engaged in activities that are illegal on the federal level, there aren’t many publicly-listed US cannabis stocks on major exchanges. By contrast, Canadian cannabis companies — where recreational use of cannabis was legalized in 2018 — are able to list on major stock US exchanges like the Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange.

The distinction is important to know because US cannabis companies looking to raise capital are forced to list on the secondary market, or trade over-the-counter (OTC). OTC stocks can be dangerous as they lack public financial records and are often more susceptible to price manipulation.

The good news is that the number of publicly-listed marijuana stocks is growing. As you’re evaluating your options, the first thing to consider is the company’s market cap. The larger the market cap, the better the chance that the company will have the financial stability to survive over the long haul.

Here’s a list marijuana stocks that have a market cap of at least $1 billion:

Company Market Cap Type
Canopy Growth Corp (CGC) $15.86 billion Grower/Retailer/Drugmaker
Curaleaf (CURLF) $7.74 billion Retailer/Drugmaker
GW Pharmaceuticals (GWPH) $6.77 billion Drugmaker
Green Thumb Industries Inc (GTBIF) $6.55 billion Manufacturer/Retailer
Tilray Inc (TLRY) $5.49 billion Drugmaker
Cronos Group (CRON) $4.70 billion Manufacturer
Village Farms International, Inc. (VFF) $1.41 billion Grower

The financial takeaway

Marijuana investing isn’t for everyone, especially for retail investors who prefer to minimize risk. But investors with a higher risk tolerance may find that the growth promise of marijuana stocks and ETFs make them a worthy addition to their portfolios.

The legal cannabis market in the US is poised to grow, but this promising investment opportunity comes with some notable risk.

Top Marijuana Stocks for April 2021

CLIQ.TO, CARA, and GRWG are top for value, growth, and momentum, respectively

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The marijuana industry is made up of companies that either support or are engaged in the research, development, distribution, and sale of medical and recreational marijuana. Cannabis has begun to gain wider acceptance and has been legalized in a growing number of nations, states, and other jurisdictions for recreational, medicinal, and other uses. Some of the biggest companies in the marijuana industry include Canopy Growth Corp. (CGC), Cronos Group Inc. (CRON), and Tilray Inc. (TLRY). Many big marijuana companies have continued to post sizable net losses as they focus on investing in equipment to speed up revenue growth, which remains strong despite the economic disruption spurred by the pandemic.

Marijuana stocks, as represented by the ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF (MJ), have dramatically outperformed the broader market. MJ has provided a total return of 122.1% over the past 12 months, nearly double the Russell 1000’s total return of 66.1%. These market performance numbers and all statistics in the tables below are as of March 24, 2021.

Here are the top 5 marijuana stocks with the best value, the fastest growth, and the most momentum.

On March 31, 2021, New York passed a law legalizing recreational cannabis, expanding medical use, and decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, among other measures. Not all of these provisions will go into effect immediately and there is not yet a timeline by which all these measures will be fully implemented.

Best Value Marijuana Stocks

Value investing is a factor-based investing strategy in which you pick stocks that you believe are trading for less than what they are intrinsically worth, usually by measuring the ratio of the stock’s price to one or more fundamental business metrics. A widely accepted value metric is the price-to-earnings ratio (P/E Ratio). Value investors believe that if a business is cheap compared to its intrinsic value, in this case as measured by its P/E ratio, the stock price may rise faster than others as the price comes back in line with the worth of the company. These are the marijuana stocks with the lowest 12-month trailing price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio.

Best Value Marijuana Stocks
Price ($) Market Cap ($B) 12-Month Trailing P/E Ratio
Alcanna Inc. ( CLIQ.TO) CA$7.90 CA$0.3 21.4
NIC Inc. ( EGOV) 33.81 2.3 33.5
Innovative Industrial Properties Inc. ( IIPR) 172.84 4.1 53.7
Village Farms International Inc. ( VFF.TO) CA$15.96 CA$1.3 61.2
Trulieve Cannabis Corp. ( TRUL.CX) CA$60.21 CA$7.2 85.9
  • Alcanna Inc.: Alcanna is a Canada-based retailer of alcoholic beverages and cannabis. The company operates liquor stores that sell wines, beers, and spirts, and retail cannabis stores. Alcanna employs about 1,800 people and operates 250 liquor and cannabis retail outlets.
  • NIC Inc.: NIC offers services to help governments use the Internet to provide services to citizens and businesses. The company is the nation’s largest provider of digital government services, sites, and secure payment processing. NIC also offers a platform for government licensing and regulation of the cannabis industry. The company serves more than 7,000 federal, state, and local government agencies throughout the U.S. NIC announced on February 10 that it has agreed to be acquired by Tyler Technologies Inc. (TYL) in an all-cash transaction valued at approximately $2.3 billion. Tyler Technologies is a provider of integrated software and technology services to local, state, and federal government entities. The transaction is expected to close in the second quarter of 2021.
  • Innovative Industrial Properties Inc.: Innovative Industrial Properties is a real estate investment trust (REIT) that engages in the acquisition, disposition, development, and management of industrial facilities leased to tenants in the medical cannabis industry. The company’s portfolio consists of specialized industrial and greenhouse buildings leased to state-licensed medical-use cannabis cultivators across the U.S.
  • Village Farms International Inc.: Village Farms International is a Canada-based agricultural producer. In addition to growing vegetables like tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers, the company also produces cannabis. The company distributes fresh produce from over nine million square feet of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) greenhouses in Canada and the U.S., as well as from partner greenhouses in Canada and Mexico.
  • Trulieve Cannabis Corp.: Trulieve Cannabis is a holding company that, through its subsidiaries, engages in the cultivation, possession, sale, and distribution of medical cannabis. Its products are designed to alleviate seizures, muscle spasms, pain, nausea, loss of appetite, and other symptoms associated with serious medical conditions such as cancer. The company operates 83 stores across the U.S., 78 of which are located in Florida, where it serves more than 450,000 patients. Trulieve recently announced that is has agreed to acquire Mountaineer Holding LLC, providing Trulieve with an additional cultivation permit and two additional dispensary permits. Trulieve agreed to acquire Mountaineer for an upfront payment of $6 million. The transaction is expected to close during the second quarter of 2021.

Fastest Growing Marijuana Stocks

These are the top marijuana stocks as ranked by a growth model that scores companies based on a 50/50 weighting of their most recent quarterly year-over-year (YOY) percentage revenue growth and their most recent quarterly YOY earnings-per-share (EPS) growth. Both sales and earnings are critical factors in the success of a company. Therefore ranking companies by only one growth metric makes a ranking susceptible to the accounting anomalies of that quarter (such as changes in tax law or restructuring costs) that may make one or the other figure unrepresentative of the business in general. Companies with quarterly EPS or revenue growth of over 2,500% were excluded as outliers.

Fastest Growing Marijuana Stocks
Price ($) Market Cap ($B) EPS Growth (%) Revenue Growth (%)
Cara Therapeutics Inc. ( CARA) 19.44 1.0 N/A 2,380
GrowGeneration Corp. ( GRWG) 45.81 2.5 100.0 152.6
NIC Inc. (EGOV) 33.81 2.3 73.3% 62.1
Jushi Holdings Inc. ( JUSH.CX) CA$8.23 CA$0.9 N/A 600.0
Cresco Labs Inc. ( CL.CX) CA$16.46 CA$3.6 N/A 314.9
  • Cara Therapeutics Inc.: Cara Therapeutics is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on developing therapies primarily for the treatment of pruritus, a skin condition causing severe itchiness. The company owns several patents, one of which has claims to certain cannabinoid compounds. Cara Therapeutics has a number of drugs under development that are in various stages of clinical trials. The company’s EPS growth is not recorded in the table above because its earnings changed from negative in Q4 2019 to positive in Q4 2020, its most recent reported quarter and which ended December 31, 2020.
  • GrowGeneration Corp.: GrowGeneration is a distributor of agricultural products. The company operates retail hydroponic and organic specialty gardening retail outlets. It offers thousands of products, including plant nutrition, farming soils, advanced lighting technology, hydroponic and aquaponic equipment, and more. As one of the largest hydroponics suppliers in the country it owns and operates 52 retail and distribution centers. GrowGeneration recently announced the appointment of Jeffrey Lasher to the role of chief financial officer (CFO), effective April 15, 2021. Mr. Lasher has previously served as CFO at several other companies, including West Marine Inc. and Crocs Inc. (CROX).
  • NIC Inc.: See above for company description.
  • Jushi Holdings Inc.: Jushi Holdings is a holding company focused on building a portfolio of branded cannabis and hemp-based assets. The company is engaged in retail, distribution, cultivation, and processing operations. Its brands include: The Bank, focused on plant genetics and cultivation; The Lab, specializing in vape products and concentrates; Nira, maker of hemp-based CBD products that are physician formulated; Nira+, producer of medicinal THC products; Seche, offering various branded ground and flower cannabis products; and Tasteology, a provider of THC-infused products. Jushi’s EPS growth is not recorded in the table above because its earnings changed from positive in Q3 2019 to negative in Q3 2020, its most recent reported quarter and which ended September 30, 2020.
  • Cresco Labs Inc.: Cresco Labs is a consumer-packaged cannabis products company involved in growing, manufacturing, and distribution. The company operates in nine states, owns production facilities and dispensaries, and holds 29 retail licenses. Its brands include Cresco, Reserve, Remedi, Mindy’s, Good News, High Supply, Wonder Wellness Co., and FloraCal Farms. Cresco’s EPS growth is not recorded in the table above because its earnings changed from negative in Q3 2019 to positive in Q3 2020, its most recent reported quarter as of March 24, 2021 and which ended September 30, 2020. The company recently announced that it has agreed to acquire Cultivate Licensing LLC and BL Real Estate LLC (collectively known as Cultivate), a Massachusetts-based vertically integrated operator, for upfront consideration of $90 million and an earnout of up to $68 million. The transaction is expected to close in Q4 2021.

Marijuana Stocks with the Most Momentum

Momentum investing is a factor-based investing strategy in which you invest in a stock whose price has risen faster than the market as a whole. Momentum investors believe that stocks which have outperformed the market will often continue to do so, because the factors that caused them to outperform will not suddenly disappear. In addition, other investors, seeking to benefit from the stock’s outperformance, will often purchase the stock, further bidding its price higher and pushing the stock higher still. These are the stocks that had the highest total return over the last 12 months.

Marijuana Stocks with the Most Momentum
Price ($) Market Cap ($B) 12-Month Trailing Total Return (%)
GrowGeneration Corp. (GRWG) 45.81 2.5 1,180
Amyris Inc. ( AMRS) 18.76 5.0 772.6
Jushi Holdings Inc. (JUSH.CX) CA$8.23 CA$0.9 648.2
Aphria Inc. ( APHA) 17.45 5.5 546.3
TerrAscend Corp. ( TER.CX) CA$13.15 CA$2.3 517.4
Russell 1000 N/A N/A 66.1
ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF (MJ) N/A N/A 122.1
  • GrowGeneration Corp.: See above for company description.
  • Amyris Inc.: Amyris produces and distributes products that serve markets for specialty and performance chemicals, flavors and fragrances, cosmetics ingredients, pharmaceuticals, and nutraceuticals. The company is also working on developing and producing cannabinoid products. Amyris announced in the second half of February positive pre-clinical results for its RNA COVID-19 vaccine platform. The company announced in October 2020 that it had entered into a collaboration agreement and exclusive license with the Infectious Disease Research Institute to advance a novel RNA vaccine platform and develop a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Jushi Holdings Inc.: See above for company description.
  • Aphria Inc.: Aphria is a Canada-based licensed producer of medical cannabis products. Its medical cannabis is 100% greenhouse grown, allowing its plants to benefit from natural sunlight. The company’s products include oils, softgels, oral sprays, and cartridges. Aphria has scheduled a special meeting of shareholders on April 14, 2021 to approve a previously announced business combination with Tilray. Tilray is scheduled to hold its own special meeting of stockholders on April 16, 2021 to approve the merger. The agreement to combine the two companies was announced in December. The combined company would operate under the Tilray name and would be worth approximately $3.9 billion, based on the companies’ share prices on December 15, 2020. The merger agreement is expected to close during the second quarter of 2021.
  • TerrAscend Corp.: TerrAscend is a Canada-based integrated cannabis company offering a range of products, brands, and services for the global medical- and adult-use cannabis markets. Its portfolio of businesses include: The Apothecarium, a cannabis dispensary; Arise Bioscience Inc., a manufacturer and distributor of hemp-derived products; Ilera Healthcare, a medical marijuana cultivator, processor, and dispenser; Valhalla Confections, a manufacturer of cannabis-infused edibles; and more. TerrAscend recently announced that Jason Ackerman was stepping down from his roles as chief executive officer (CEO) and executive chairman, effective March 23, 2021. Jason Wild, the company’s chairman, assumed the executive chairman position. Wild said that differences over management style and culture led the board to decide to part ways with Ackerman. TerrAscend is looking for a new CEO.

The comments, opinions and analyses expressed herein are for informational purposes only and should not be considered individual investment advice or recommendations to invest in any security or to adopt any investment strategy. While we believe the information provided herein is reliable, we do not warrant its accuracy or completeness. The views and strategies described on our content may not be suitable for all investors. Because market and economic conditions are subject to rapid change, all comments, opinions, and analyses contained within our content are rendered as of the date of the posting and may change without notice. The material is not intended as a complete analysis of every material fact regarding any country, region, market, industry, investment, or strategy.

These are the marijuana stocks with the best value, fastest growth, and most momentum for April 2021.