Investors have never been more excited about the prospects for marijuana stocks, and many of the best-known first movers in the industry call Canada their home. Aurora Cannabis (NASDAQ:ACB) (TSX:ACB) is one of the major companies in the cannabis industry looking to cash in on the impending legalization of recreational marijuana in Canada, and it's put together an impressive set of resources designed to let it take maximum advantage of growing consumer interest in cannabis products.

Like most up-and-coming companies, Aurora Cannabis isn't consistently profitable, and the marijuana producer is spending freely to ramp up its production capabilities to stay ahead of competitors. Yet Aurora just disclosed a gain of 372 million Canadian dollars in its 2018 annual report, and as you'll see below, the source is one that's very unusual for an upstart young business to have.

Several people at a convention talking to representatives at a booth with the Aurora banner and products on a table.

Image source: Aurora Cannabis.

Building the perfect portfolio

Many young companies try to do everything themselves. Complete vertical integration can be a big competitive advantage, but it's also difficult to ramp up operations in a comprehensive way when there are huge pressures to get things done quickly in order to stay ahead of rivals.

Aurora Cannabis has taken a more nuanced approach. Rather than keeping everything in house, Aurora Cannabis has made a series of major investments in various peers in the cannabis industry, encompassing a wide range of different capabilities. By building what the company calls a "strong complementary portfolio," Aurora has been able to put together a comprehensive strategic vision that takes advantage of having multiple businesses moving forward in the same direction.

Aurora's 10-headed cannabis hydra

The breadth of the companies in which Aurora Cannabis has invested is impressive. The company's annual report cites 10 key partnerships that Aurora has made recently:

  • Alcanna is a retailer in the beverage business that's looking to build out a retail cannabis network once recreational products become legal in Canada.
  • Radient has a unique process to extract compounds from biological material like cannabis plants, allowing cost-effective production of high-purity cannabis extracts.
  • Namaste is a distributor of vaporizers and smoking accessories, and Aurora sees potential in offering smoke-free products to customers.
  • Hempco makes hemp-seed food products, which both opens up a potential new market and gives Aurora cheap raw ingredients for production of cannabidiol extracts.
  • Cann Group is a medicinal cannabis business based in Australia, offering geographical diversification to Aurora's portfolio.
  • Privately held Capcium makes cannabis products using soft-gel capsules, offering a high-margin product lineup to Aurora.
  • CTT Pharma makes drug delivery systems that could facilitate use of cannabis-related products for pain management and other treatments.
  • Micron Waste focuses on transforming organic waste into clean water, potentially addressing challenges that Aurora could face with byproducts of cannabis production processes.
  • Choorn is a rising player in craft cannabis production, giving Aurora access to higher-margin opportunities, especially in the Western Canadian market.
  • The Green Organic Dutchman is a sizable producer of medical cannabis, supplying Aurora with a substantial fraction of its total output.

Put together, you can see how these 10 companies dramatically expand the reach that Aurora Cannabis has. As new markets open, Aurora will be able to tap this network to respond more quickly to new opportunities.

Paying off

Moreover, Aurora's investments in these up-and-coming companies have already paid off from an investment standpoint. All told, Aurora had invested about CA$327 million in building up its portfolio of cannabis-related companies as of June 30, 2018. But due to early success and rising interest among investors, the fair market value of Aurora's stakes in those companies had soared to CA$699 million. That represents an unrealized gain of CA$372 million. When you consider that Aurora Cannabis brought in only CA$55 million in revenue in all of fiscal 2018, it's clear just how valuable the company's investments have been to its overall prospects.

What's more, those figures were all as of the end of Aurora's fiscal year on June 30. Since then, marijuana stocks have soared, and that could make Aurora's stake in those companies collectively even more valuable.

Don't expect Aurora to cash in -- yet

For now, Aurora Cannabis stands to benefit fundamentally from its collaborations with key partners, and because of that, it's unlikely to sell out on its early investments despite their big gains. In time, though, strategically astute handling of Aurora's budding cannabis portfolio could produce impressive profits above and beyond whatever the global cannabis market provides the marijuana company over the long run.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.