Legal recreational marijuana sales in Canada haven't had the effect on stock prices that investors had been hoping for. Shares of CannTrust Holdings (NASDAQOTH:CNTTF) and Aurora Cannabis (NYSE:ACB) have tumbled 37% and 44%, respectively since the rollout began, and careful shoppers are wondering which is a better deal at recent prices.

Although the path to cannabis riches is going to be a lot more complicated than many investors expected, these two players could have what it takes. Here's a closer look at both to find out which is the better stock now. 

Marijuana flower in a tiny toy shopping cart.

Image source: Getty Images.

The case for CannTrust Holdings

Dozens of producers are scaling up, but CannTrust is one of precious few that aren't bleeding money. At the end of September, the company estimated that plants growing were capable of yielding 6,700 kg, from just 1,900 kg at the end of 2017. Despite rapidly ramping up production, operations eked out a profit of 1.0 million Canadian dollars during the third quarter and CA$15.2 million during the first nine months of 2018.

By producing cannabis at a relatively low cost and selling it to 50,000 active medical patients throughout Canada, CannTrust is able to produce cash flow statements that won't turn your hair white. The company sold around 1,400 kg of dried cannabis and cannabis equivalents at an impressive average price of CA$8.37 per gram during the three months ended this September.

CannTrust will also supply a significant amount of the recreational cannabis consumed in Canada through supply agreements in place with nine provinces. The company thinks the agreements will exceed 30,000 kg in annual sales and meeting this expectation would probably send the stock climbing again.

At recent prices, CannTrust Holdings sports an $885 million market cap. That seems like a reasonable price for a company that will probably report around $250 million in sales next year, as long as oversupply issues don't apply too much downward pressure to cannabis prices.

Hundred-dollar bills under cannabis flower.

Image source: Getty Images.

The case for Aurora Cannabis

Uplisting to a U.S. exchange helped Aurora Cannabis step up its game, and by 2020, the company could start producing an industry-leading 700,000 kg annually, thanks in part to the recent $290 million purchase of ICC Labs. The ICC purchase makes Aurora a leading seller of legal cannabis in Latin America, and the first to begin production of GMP-compliant CBD in the region. Once a 1 million-square-foot facility under construction in Denmark opens in 2019, Aurora will be a leading cannabis producer on three continents.

Although no nationwide brands have truly emerged in Canada, Europe, or the U.S., yet, Aurora could have some of the first. When the company reported third-quarter results, management claimed that Aurora had four of the top five selling brands in British Columbia, and its San Rafael brand gained a 30% share of the Ontario Cannabis Store website. Now that Aurora has a 25% stake in Alcanna, a retailer with 229 outlets in Western Canada and Alaska, Aurora can provide consistent availability and quality throughout the region.

Aurora recently pleased some investors with 260% year-to-year revenue growth during the fiscal first quarter, which ended September. Those that still remember Aurora shelling out CA$1 billion to acquire CanniMed earlier this year weren't impressed enough to give the stock any lift, though. 

Staffing facilities all over the globe really helped Aurora Cannabis rack up some bills in the third quarter. Although total revenue rose to $29.7 million, sales and administrative expenses spiked 880% to $65 million during the period. All together, Aurora's operations lost a whopping $112 million during the third quarter.

Aurora was able to record $104 million net income gain thanks to some lucky investments that appreciated in value, but investors really can't depend on such gains to offset heavy operating losses down the road. The company's $5.8 billion market cap will come crashing down if the chasm between sales and expenses doesn't shrink in the quarters ahead.

Marijuana flower in a mason jar next to cash.

Image source: Getty Images.

The better cannabis stock now

Aurora has 35% more registered medical patients in Canada than CannTrust does, and its international spider web of facilities dwarfs CannTrust's global presence. With $291 million in total debt, and sprawling global operations, Aurora shares come with enough execution risk to make anyone nervous.

CannTrust Holdings doesn't have any debt on its balance sheet, its operations aren't accumulating losses, and it's trading at a more reasonable multiple of forward sales expectations. I'd like to see the price fall a bit more before I'd call it a buy, but right now, CannTrust looks like the better marijuana stock.

Cory Renauer has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends CannTrust Holdings Inc. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.