By Paul Ausick, 24/7 Wall ST
The November election wound up with eight states added to the number of them where either medical or recreational marijuana (or both) are or will be legally for sale.
Medical marijuana is now legal in Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota, and Montanans voted to eliminate legislatively imposed restrictions on access to medical marijuana. California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada approved recreational use of marijuana.
Recreational marijuana use is now legal in seven states and the District of Columbia, while medicinal use is legal in 20 states. According to the 2016 Marijuana Business Factbook published last March, the impact of cannabis products on the U.S. economy will rise from an estimated total of $14 billion to $17 billion this year to an estimated $44 billion by 2020. The estimates are based on sales of medical and recreational marijuana at the retail level, including flower, infused products and concentrates. For each dollar spent at retail, the Factbook estimates that the economic benefit realized amounts to an additional three dollars.
Which companies will be earning those billions? Analysts at Viridian Capital Advisors maintain a cannabis stock index, and for 2016 through December 9, the index is up 175.3%.
Viridian divides its index into sectors under two main categories: ancillary products and services, and “touching the plant.” The sectors posting the biggest year-to-date gains are the biotech/pharmaceutical and the cultivation/retail sector, up 413.3% and 290.7%, respectively.
By the way, while 2016 growth is impressive, it pales compared to the 2014 annual gain of 383.5%.
Of the 10 largest (by market cap) U.S.-listed companies, nine are biotech/pharma firms and just one “touches the plant.” In Canada, the three largest cannabis firms are all growers, and these three firms qualify for a place in the largest marijuana businesses in North America.
Here is a list of the 10 largest cannabis firms in North America, ranked on the basis of market cap. The data are accurate as of December 21, 2016, and were provided by Viridian Capital Advisors. Unless otherwise noted, all amounts are presented in U.S. dollars.
> Market cap: $2.87 billion
> Year-to-date stock price change: +64%
GW Pharmaceuticals PLC (NASDAQ: GWPH) is a biopharmaceutical company that develops and commercializes therapeutics using a proprietary cannabinoid product platform. The company is included in the Nasdaq biotechnology index. Shares closed at $114.24 on Friday, December 23, and the stock’s 52-week trading range is $79.62 to $137.88.
> Market cap: $780.6 million
> Year-to-date stock price change: +192%
Toronto-traded Canopy Growth Corp. (TSE: CGC) is a diversified cannabis company that produces and sells legal marijuana in the Canadian medical market. The Trudeau government’s promise to legalize recreational pot use is viewed as a huge positive for this company. Shares closed at C$9.35 on Friday, and the 52-week range is C$2.97 to C$17.86.
> Market cap: $664.6 million
> Year-to-date stock price change: -68%
Insys Therapeutics Inc. (NASDAQ: INSY) is a biopharmaceutical company that has had two cannabis-based drugs approved by the U.S. FDA. The most recent drug approval, Syndros, boosts appetite for cancer and AIDS-related patients suffering from weight loss. Shares closed at $9.21 on Friday, in a 52-week range of $8.70 to $29.75.
> Market cap: $433.8 million
> Year-to-date stock price change: +311%
Aurora Cannabis Inc. (OTC: ACBFF) also trades on Toronto’s venture exchange and is another Canadian company focused on growing and selling medical marijuana. It grows both psychoactive THC products and medically oriented CBD products. Shares closed at $1.67 on Friday. The stock’s 52-week range is $0.31 to $2.96.
> Market cap: $401.6 million
> Year-to-date stock price change: +656%
Axim Biotechnologies Inc. (OTCQB: AXIM) is a biotech firm developing cannabidiol-based treatments for pain, spasticity, anxiety and other medical disorders. At one time this year, the stock was up 2,000% on high-hopes for Axim’s product pipeline. Shares closed at $7.77 on Friday, in a 52-week range of $0.21 to $10.00.
> Market cap: $380.1 million
> Year-to-date stock price change: +281%
Medical Marijuana Inc. (OTCPink: MJNA) is a development stage company that develops, sells and distributes hemp oil that contains naturally occurring cannabinoids. The company also licenses its proprietary testing, genetics, labeling and packaging methods for the medicinal herb industry. Shares closed at $0.15 on Friday, and the stock’s 52-week range is $0.03 to $0.27.
> Market cap: $375.5 million
> Year-to-date stock price change: +410%
This clinical-stage pharmaceutical firm is developing a synthetic oral endocannabinoid-mimetic drug, Resunab, for treating chronic inflammation and halting fibrotic processes without causing immunosuppression. Resunab is in Phase 2 clinical testing for treatment of systemic lupus erythematosus. Shares of Corbus Pharmaceuticals Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ: CRBP) closed at $8.55 on Friday, in a 52-week range of $1.01 to $10.78.
> Market cap: $373.6 million
> Year-to-date stock price change: +286%
Aprhia Inc. (OTC: APHQF) also trades on Canada’s venture exchange and is another grower and seller of medical marijuana through retail stores and wholesale distribution. The company recently signed an intellectual property transfer deal with an Arizona medical marijuana grower. Shares closed at $3.537 on Friday. The 52-week range is $0.77 to $5.79.
> Market cap: $340.6 million
> Year-to-date stock price change: -20%
Arena Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: ARNA) is a biopharmaceutical company that developed and distributes a weight-loss drug known as Belviq. Arena makes this list on the strength of a new candidate, ADP371, a cannabinoid-based pain treatment. The stock closed at $1.53 a share on Friday, and its 52-week range is $1.30 to $2.16.
> Market cap: $251 million
> Year-to-date stock price change: -43%
Cara Therapeutics Inc. (NASDAQ: CARA) is a clinical-stage biopharma firm that is developing and commercializing treatments for pain and pruritus. In addition to a pre-clinical cannabinoid candidate, CR701, the company has a pain treatment in late-stage trials. Shares closed at $9.97 on Friday. The 52-week range is $4.26 to $17.69.
One company not included in this list is Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. (NYSE: SMG). The company’s $5.76 billion market cap would put it at the top of this list, except that so far most of the firm’s activity in the marijuana market has been to acquire hydroponic growers and carving out a space for itself as the leading supplier for indoor growers. Less than 10% of its 2015 revenues of $2.8 billion were due to its hydroponics business.