Spreadsheet & table updated daily
Updated on July 26th, 2019 by Jonathan Weber
The marijuana industry is growing rapidly. Multiple countries around the world have already moved to legalized recreational marijuana. In the U.S., nearly a dozen states have legalized recreational marijuana, with many more having legalized medicinal use. It is only likely that more states will follow suit in the coming years.
While this naturally leads to a potentially significant investment opportunity, investors would do well to remember some of the industry bubbles of the past. For example, the tech bubble of the late 1990’s is a constant reminder that rapid industry growth alone does not guarantee investing success. Choosing the highest-quality companies (or least risky stocks) in a growing industry can make a world of difference for returns.
This article takes a deep dive into the marijuana industry, in search of the best marijuana stocks today. Surprisingly, there are over 100 to choose from with full or partial exposure to the marijuana industry.
Click the link below to download our free Excel spreadsheet of more than 100 marijuana stocks.
Table of Contents
- Industry Overview
- Investing In The Marijuana Industry
- ‘Pure Play’ Marijuana Stocks
- Indirect Exposure Marijuana Stocks
- The Best Marijuana Stocks
- Final Thoughts
The cannabis plant can be divided into 2 broad categories based on tetrahydrocannabinol [THC] content:
- High THC – what we often refer to as marijuana
- Nearly no THC – what we often refer to as hemp
Marijuana has recreational and pharmaceutical uses while hemp has primarily industrial uses.
Interestingly, THC is one of more than 480 known substances in the plant, with more than 60 of those being cannabinoids.
Marijuana can be used either by smoking, by vaporizing, as content in food or beverages, or as an extract.
Marijuana Use & Legality Around The Globe
Over the last couple of years, marijuana laws around the globe have been relaxed in many cases, an increasing number of countries (and US states) have legalized the medical, and in some cases the recreational, use of marijuana. The drug has so far not been legalized on the federal level in the US, though. The image below shows legalization by country.
Marijuana has been partially or fully legalized in 21 countries. In most cases, medical marijuana has been legalized while the recreational use of marijuana has not been legalized.
In Canada, marijuana was fully legalized on the federal level in 2018. Several other countries, such as Germany and Mexico, have decriminalized the use and possession of small amounts of marijuana.
In a significant amount of US states marijuana has been at least partially legalized.
11 states, as well as the District of Columbia, allow the recreational use of marijuana by adults, with age restrictions ranging from 18 to 21.
In those countries and US states where marijuana has not been legalized, marijuana is still used regularly. It is the most commonly used illegal drug in both the world, as well as in the United States, where a 2016 study found that 51% of Americans had used the drug at least once. Globally, between 130 million and 230 million people use marijuana for recreational purposes every year.
Medical Use Of Marijuana
Medical marijuana, also called medical cannabis, refers to marijuana that has been prescribed by doctors to their patients as a form of treatment for a variety of symptoms. Evidence suggests that the consumption of marijuana (or marijuana-based products) can have positive impacts on patients with certain conditions that are not explained by the placebo effect.
The use cases for medical marijuana include:
- The treatment of nausea and vomiting for patients undergoing chemotherapy
- Increasing appetite for patients with an HIV/AIDS infection
- The treatment of chronic pain (e.g. caused by peripheral neuropathy) and muscle spasms
- The treatment of neurological issues, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), epilepsy, and movement problems.
- Sleep improvement
- the reduction of tics for patients with Tourette syndrome
- the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder
In those countries where medical marijuana has been legalized, it oftentimes has only been allowed for a couple of years. The medical marijuana market thus is still in a relatively early phase of growth.
Growth catalysts include:
- Rising usage in countries that have legalized
- More countries legalizing
Studies suggest that the global medical marijuana market could be worth as much as $55 billion by 2024. The report from Global Market Insights sees an annual market growth rate in excess of 30%, driven by increasing use for the treatment of issues caused by cancer and HIV/AIDS primarily.
For doctors to increasingly prescribe medical marijuana instead of opioid narcotics (which can cause addiction and serious side effects) is seen as another long-term growth driver for the use of medical marijuana as a form of pain relief.
The most important geographic markets will be those where healthcare budgets are meaningful and where marijuana has been (partially) legalized. This includes the United States (states where the use of medical marijuana has been legalized), Canada, Israel, Australia, parts of Europe (Germany, Italy, France, The Netherlands), and parts of South America (Chile, Argentina).
Recreational Use Of Marijuana
Marijuana, the world’s most commonly used illegal drug, has a potentially very wide (and growing) legal recreational market.
So far the recreational marijuana market is concentrated in Canada and a couple of US states.
Tilray’s (TLRY) CEO has made statements that the global marijuana market could be worth $150 billion in annual sales right now, but this estimate includes a large portion of illicit marijuana trade, which obviously is not yet up for grabs by publicly traded marijuana companies.
Projections by Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) see a country-wide (Canada) recreational marijuana market of $6.5 billion in 2020. Based on the fact that Canadians spent $5.6 billion on marijuana in 2017, when the drug was still illegal, this projection does not seem overly optimistic. It is likely that more Canadians will start using the drug now that it has been legalized, or that users who consumed illicit marijuana will increase their consumption now that the drug can be purchased at dispensaries legally.
Even though marijuana has not been legalized in the United States on a federal level, the US still seems poised to turn into a major market for recreational marijuana. In the 11 states where marijuana has been legalized, a number that will likely continue to grow over the coming years, recreational marijuana sales outpaced medical marijuana sales.
Forbes forecasts that medical marijuana will make up just 35% of global legal marijuana sales by 2022, down from 100% in 2013. If that market share holds constant in the following years, and if the projections for a medical marijuana market of $55 billion hold true, that puts the total legal marijuana market at roughly $157 billion during the mid-2020s.
This is relatively comparable to estimates by Grand View Research of $146 billion by 2025. If these forecasts are correct, that implies a global recreational marijuana market size of roughly $90-$100 billion roughly six years from now.
This would put recreational marijuana at roughly 13% of the global beer market, which is projected to be worth $685 billion by 2025. The global tobacco market, for reference, is worth about $700 billion annually, with a low-single-digit growth rate.
Analysts are projecting very high growth rates for the industry as a whole. In case these growth projections do not materialize, due to legalization changes or shifts in consumer behavior, or because these projections were wrong in the first place, these market size estimates could turn out to be way too optimistic, thus investors should take these projections with a grain of salt.
Investors should also keep the following statement by Benjamin Graham in mind:
“Obvious prospects for physical growth in a business do not translate into obvious profits for investors.”
Market growth rates do not necessarily go hand in hand with high profits for the corporations that are active in this respective market, and they especially do not go hand in hand with meaningful shareholder payouts.
Growth stocks that are priced for perfection can disappoint investors and produce underwhelming total returns, even if the original thesis about strong underlying growth rates for the industry proves true.
There are credible arguments to be made against high-profit margins in the marijuana industry. These include the fact that market entry barriers are not overly high — there are no substantial network effects, entry costs are not overly large, and there are no big technological advantages — and the fact that marijuana is an agricultural good.
Margins in the agricultural industry are notoriously low. Half of all agricultural businesses generate operating profit margins (before interest expenses and before taxes) of less than 5%. It is in no way guaranteed that the same will apply to the marijuana market, but it is possible that industry-wide profits in the marijuana industry could be relatively meager, despite a large market size.
Investing In The Marijuana Industry
There are a large number of publicly traded marijuana companies, with the biggest ones being located in Canada, which is not surprising, as Canada is the largest market where marijuana has been fully legalized. Companies in this segment have different strategies, such as focusing on the medical marijuana market, or certain geographic markets.
There are several ETFs which investors can choose if they are bullish on the industry as a whole and if they do not want to choose among single companies. The largest one of these ETFs is the Horizons Marijuana Life Sciences Index ETF (HMLSF), which has a current net asset value of CAD16.60 per share (July 2019).
The Horizons Marijuana Life Sciences Index ETF has moved down over the last couple of months, but its net asset value is still up 9% since we wrote the original version of this article in December 2018.
This ETF made a quarterly distribution of $0.200 (CAD, equal to US$0.152) in June 2019, its forward yield is 4.4% (assuming distributions are neither cut nor increased). The Horizons Marijuana Life Science ETF has a relatively high expense ratio of 0.75% annually.
‘Pure Play’ Marijuana Stocks
Investors who are interested in this space can choose from a large list of publicly traded companies with direct exposure to the marijuana market, i.e. marijuana pure plays. These are companies which derive all, or a vast majority of, their revenues from the sale of marijuana and marijuana products, for medical use and/or for recreational use.
The largest players in this segment are Canada-based, but US-based companies with meaningful market capitalizations exist as well. Outside of North America, there are no large players in this space, since other countries where (medical) marijuana has been legalized import marijuana from North American companies in most cases.
Most marijuana companies do not have a long history of revenues or earnings because the legal marijuana industry is still in its infancy.
It seems likely that those marijuana companies with the highest sales base and the largest production capacity have the greatest chance of generating above-average margins. Reasons for this include economics of scale, operating leverage, and the fact that those with the most experience are likely the best at bringing down costs of production.
On the other hand investors should be careful not to overpay for stocks – which is why the price for a stock should always be looked at relative to metrics such as the earnings or the cash flows that the company generates (on a per-share basis).
As most marijuana companies are not profitable yet, the price to sales ratio can be a good metric to evaluate stocks in this segment. As sales of recreational marijuana have only started out (marijuana was legalized in Canada in October of 2018), the forward price to sales multiple is likely more meaningful than price to sales metrics for 2017 or the trailing twelve month period.
For some marijuana companies there are no consensus sales estimates for 2019 and beyond, which is why we chose to use a different metric. Marijuana companies publish their capacity for production, we therefore value these companies based on price per production capacity, which serves as a solid proxy for a price to sales ratio, as selling prices per gram of marijuana should not differ much across companies.
This is the list of the 10 largest marijuana companies by production capacity:
- Aurora Cannabis (ACB)
- Canopy Growth (CGC)
- Aphria (APHQF)
- Tilray (TLRY)
- The Green Organic Dutchman (TGODF)
- Cronos (CRON)
- Organigram (OGRMF)
- HEXO Corp. (HYYDF)
- CannTrust Holdings (CNTTF)
- Emerald Health Therapeutics (EMHTF)
Of these, the five with the most promising price per production capacity ratio are analyzed below.
Marijuana Pure Play Stock: Emerald Health Therapeutics
Emerald Health Therapeutics is one of the smaller marijuana companies in this list, both by production capacity and by market capitalization. The ratio of these two metrics looks very favorable here, though.
Source: Investor Presentation
The company is one of Canada’s licensed producers, which has been expanding its production capacity through several deals over the last couple of quarters. A 50/50 joint venture with Village Farms that owns a 1.1 million square foot facility has expanded Emerald Health’s future production capacity substantially. And, the company also acquired Agro-Biotech in 2018.
Together with existing production capacity these deals should allow Emerald Health to produce 100,000 kg of marijuana annually in the foreseeable future. Emerald Health trades with a market capitalization of just $219 million at the end of July, which means that investors have to pay just $2,190 per kg of production capacity, the lowest ratio among the top 10 producers.
Emerald Health is not the largest among the Canadian producers, which could be a bit of a headwind as it might lack scale once the industry has matured, but on the other hand this means that Emerald Health is a possible acquisition target in case some of the larger players with more cash on hand want to expand their production capacity through a takeover.
Marijuana Pure Play Stock: CannTrust Holdings
CannTrust Holdings has, like most of its peers, not been around for a long time; the company was founded just 4 years ago. CannTrust Holdings is based in Vaughan, Canada, and currently trades with a market capitalization of just $288 million, following substantial share price declines during the first half of 2019.
The company expects that its production capacity will be 100,000 kg or more once its Niagara facility has come on line. CannTrust has begun construction of additional growing facilities, including a 600,000 square foot facility on unused land next to an already existing asset (Perpetual Harvest Facility), although it will take some time for this facility to begin production.
When we use the low end of management’s production guidance, CannTrust trades at a price of just $2,880 per kg of production capacity, which makes CannTrust one of the cheapest stocks in this space. There are some issues with regulators, though, as CannTrust has announced that it would stop product sales in July, while Health Canada inspects one of its manufacturing facilities. It thus looks like there is a good reason why CannTrust trades at a quite inexpensive valuation.
Marijuana Pure Play Stock: The Green Organic Dutchman
The Green Organic Dutchman is an Ontario, Canada, based marijuana company that had its IPO in spring 2018 and aims to be the global leader in organic cannabis.
Source: Investor Presentation
The Green Organic Dutchman expects that its production capacity will be 219,000 kg of marijuana a year, based on several deals that have expanded the company’s asset base. This includes the June 2018 acquisition of a facility (280,000 square foot) that The Green Organic Dutchman plans to use for producing marijuana-containing edible products and marijuana-infused beverages. The Green Organic Dutchman has launched a hemp division in June 2019, but this segment will likely not generate meaningful revenues in the foreseeable future.
The Green Organic Dutchman is currently valued at a price of $3,590 per kg of production capacity, the second lowest valuation of the major players in this industry.
Marijuana Pure Play Stock: Aphria
Aphria is substantially larger than the peers in this list. The company is currently valued at $1.52 billion. The company is one of the global players in the marijuana industry, as it does not only operate in North America, but also in several other countries around the globe.
Aphria has a production capacity of 255,000 kg of marijuana a year, which makes it one of the biggest producers. Its two biggest facilities, Aphria One and Aphria Diamond, have production capacities of 110,000 kg and 140,000 kg annually, respectively. In terms of price per production capacity, Aphria is neither an especially cheap nor an especially expensive stock, as it trades at $5,960 per kg of capacity right now.
Aphria had been in takeover talks with Altria (MO), which chose to take a stake in another marijuana company (Cronos) instead. Some analysts still see Aphria as a potential takeover candidate by another acquirer.
Marijuana Pure Play Stock: Organigram
Organigram is a Moncton, Canada, based marijuana company that is currently valued at $930 million, following strong share price gains during the first half of 2019. The company has recently updated investors about its results in fiscal 2018, and on the company’s outlook for fiscal 2019.
The company continues to expect a production capacity of 113,000 kg of marijuana during 2019, which means that Organigram is being valued at $8,230 per kg of production capacity right now. Organigram does not look especially inexpensive, but it seems to be one of the higher-quality producers due to solid fundamentals:
Organigram has made a lot of progress in bringing down its production costs, those declined from $2.65 per gram in Q1 2018 to $1.29 per gram during fiscal Q3 of 2019. This massive success in reducing its costs bodes well for Organigram’s margin profile and its potential for generating profits in the future. Organigram is profitable on an EBITDA basis on top of that.
It is remarkable that the biggest companies in this space, such as Canopy Growth or Tilray, are missing from this list, due to their valuations being significantly higher than those listed above. Tilray, for example, trades at $16,000 per kg of production capacity. If investors want a marijuana pure play, it seems reasonable to avoid those companies that are very popular, and instead choose among those companies with a more reasonable valuation.
Indirect-Exposure Marijuana Stocks
Marijuana pure play stocks have the problem that their valuations are not low at all, and that most of these companies are not profitable yet. It is also not guaranteed that they will become profitable (due to possible margin pressures for the industry). Last but not least investors don’t get any meaningful dividend yields from marijuana pure play stocks.
For investors that don’t want to invest in marijuana pure play stocks due to the reasons outlined above, and that seek exposure to the growing marijuana industry nevertheless, one possibility is to invest in stocks that are not marijuana pure plays, but that have some exposure to the industry nevertheless.
This primarily includes consumer goods companies (beverage stocks, tobacco stocks) that have ventured into the marijuana space, but that continue to generate the majority of their revenues and earnings in another industry. Our top five picks among these companies are analyzed below.
Indirect Marijuana Exposure Stock: AbbVie
AbbVie (ABBV) is a biotech company that is active in oncology and immunology primarily. AbbVie generates revenues of $32 billion annually and is highly profitable, primarily due to its biggest drug Humira, which is used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and several other indications.
AbbVie has started a small venture into the medical marijuana industry. The company received FDA approval to sell its drug Marinol, which is marijuana-based. Marinol is used for the treatment of nausea and vomiting in patients enduring chemotherapy. Marinol is also used for increasing appetite in patients with HIV/AIDS or certain cancers.
Marinol is not a large revenue driver for AbbVie, but it seems possible that AbbVie will continue to expand in this space if there is potential for increased medical usage of marijuana or marijuana-based products.
Investors don’t have the high risks that are associated with an investment into a marijuana pure play, but could still benefit from growth of the medical marijuana industry. AbbVie trades at a very inexpensive valuation of just 7.6 times 2019’s profits right now, due to a sell-off following its announcement that the company would take over Allergan. AbbVie also offers a very sizeable dividend yield of 6.3% right here. Due to its yield, its low valuation, and its share price upside potential AbbVie is one of our favorite Dividend Aristocrat buys today.
Indirect Marijuana Exposure Stock: Altria
Altria (MO) is one of the largest tobacco companies in the world. Altria produces and sells cigarettes under the Marlboro brand in the US. The company also sells several other cigarette brands, cigar brands, and non-smokeable tobacco products to round out the company’s product portfolio. In addition, Altria owns a 10% stake in Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD), which is one of the world’s largest beer companies.
As a tobacco company Altria is primed for an expansion into the marijuana space, which is why the company has taken a stake in Canadian marijuana company Cronos. In December 2018 Altria agreed to pay $1.8 billion for a 45% stake in Cronos. Additionally Altria has an option to acquire another 10% at a slightly higher valuation.
Compared to Altria’s market capitalization of $93 billion this is not an overly large stake, but it provides an entry into this potentially large market. In case marijuana gets legalized in the US on a federal level, Altria could likely expand into this space very fast thanks to the know-how that the company acquires through its stake in Cronos and through further cooperation with Cronos, which could also include a larger additional investment into Cronos by Altria.
Altria is highly profitable, trades at just 11.9 times 2019’s earnings, and offers a hefty dividend yield of 6.4% which makes it a high dividend stock. We believe that Altria is a compelling pick for investors that seek an income investment with some potential upside through a side-venture in the marijuana space.
Indirect Marijuana Exposure Stock: Associated British Foods
Associated British Foods (ASBFY) is a London, UK, based company that is active in several industries. The company operates in the sugar production and agricultural industries, but it also produces beverages, cereals, and other food products. Last but not least Associated British Foods has established itself as a low-cost apparel retailer with its Primark brand.
Associated British Foods has ventured into the marijuana industry by becoming a marijuana cultivator and supplier to the medical industry. Unlike many marijuana pure plays, Associated British Foods is highly profitable and produces sizeable cash flows thanks to its other businesses, which means that this is a lower-risk stock, that could potentially grow its marijuana business at a fast pace through organic investments thanks to its cash generation from other business units.
As Associated British Foods is experienced in growing farm products and producing snacks and beverages, which gives the company the potential to introduce marijuana-containing products snacks and beverages, the expansion into the marijuana industry seems like a reasonable move.
Associated British Foods, which is valued at $24 billion, trades at 16.6 times this year’s earnings, which is not a high valuation. Associated British Foods offers a dividend yielding 1.7%, in line with what investors can get from the broad market. The company has raised its dividend regularly and at an ample pace during recent years.
Indirect Marijuana Exposure Stock: Constellation Brands
Constellation Brands (STZ) is one of the largest alcoholic beverages companies in the world. Constellation Brands is focused on the wine and spirits markets, but it owns a small beer segment as well.
Constellation Brands made the news in summer 2018 when the company announced a $4 billion investment in Canadian marijuana company Canopy Growth. This deal diluted Canopy Growth’s existing shareholders, but it gave Constellation Brands a substantial position in the marijuana industry.
Constellation Brands sees significant potential for marijuana-infused beverages, and due to its experience in the beverages industry and its existing sales networks Constellation Brands will likely become one of the biggest players in this (potentially large) market.
Even if this venture does not work out, Constellation Brands would remain a profitable company, and investors would likely not suffer too much from a failure in this space. Following steep share price gains during the first half of 2019, Constellation Brands trades at 24 times this year’s earnings, which means that investors should likely wait for a sell-off before entering a position, such as during June, when shares could be bought well below that level.
Investors get a dividend that yields 1.5% from Constellation Brands, which is not really a lot, but better than what one receives from pure-play stocks, while the large stake in Canopy Growth allows for substantial upside potential in case things go well.
Indirect Marijuana Exposure Stock: Molson Coors
Molson Coors (TAP) is a beverage company as well, but unlike Constellation Brands, it is focused on the global beer market. Molson Coors, which is based in Denver, CO, has moved into the marijuana industry through a joint venture with Hydropothecary, a Canada-based marijuana producer. The joint venture will focus on producing marijuana-containing, but alcohol-free beverages.
The first market that the joint venture will address is the Canadian market, but it is likely that the company would expand globally if legalization in other countries allows for an entry into these markets. Due to Molson Coors’ existing global sales networks it is likely that the venture between Molson Coors and Hydropothecary would be able to capture significant market share in overseas markets if the opportunity arises.
Molson Coors is trading at a relatively inexpensive valuation of just 12.2 times 2019’s earnings, and investors get paid a quite large dividend yield of 4.0% following a large 39% dividend increase that was announced in July of 2019.
The Best Marijuana Stocks
The marijuana industry is still very young, which means that both risks and potential rewards are elevated.
In the pure play space, Emerald Health Therapeutics continues to look inexpensive relative to other marijuana pure plays, but the company is rather small, which could be a headwind. Its small size could also make it an acquisition target, though.
Marijuana pure play companies are in general not profitable and do not pay dividends in most cases. More risk-averse investors with a goal of steady income generation should rather look at companies with some indirect marijuana exposure.
This list includes established companies with long and steady dividend growth records that will be more suitable for many investors compared to the higher-risk pure plays.
Among those stocks with indirect exposure AbbVie, Altria, and Molson Coors all look attractively priced. These companies provide above-average income yields on top of that, while giving investors the ability to benefit from growth in the marijuana industry without taking on a lot of risk.
Of these three, AbbVie is our favorite indirect exposure marijuana stock in July 2019, thanks to its almost absurdly low valuation and excellent total return outlook. Its marijuana exposure is not as large as that of Altria, though, which is why those that seek more potential marijuana upside might favor Altria, which also has strong forecasted total returns. Molson Coors has a potentially large growth runway with marijuana based beverages and also has solid total return potential, while the recent dividend increase makes it attractive for income investors, too.
When it comes to marijuana, there is a clear trend of decriminalization and outright legalization, for both medicinal and recreational purposes, in the U.S. and across the globe. This means that the potential market for legal marijuana continues to grow.
That said, investors should not blindly jump into this industry based solely on the market potential. Many of the companies in this industry are not profitable, and may never reach profitability. As a result, investing in marijuana stocks is fraught with risk. It is not guaranteed that all major marijuana companies (some of which are valued at several billion dollars) will grow into their valuations in a reasonable amount of time.
Investors should take a close look at all relevant data points before making any decisions, especially in a higher-risk environment such as the emerging marijuana industry. Choosing lower-risk stocks which allow for some indirect exposure to the industry could be an opportune move for investors, especially for those that desire dividend income from their stock holdings.