It's been a wild year for the stock market, and an even crazier year for marijuana stocks. Following two straight years of incredible gains, most pot stocks have lacked for green in 2018. The Horizons Marijuana Life Sciences ETF, the first cannabis ETF to trade publicly, had lost 38% year to date through Dec. 18.
But the performance of weed stocks isn't reflective of what's happened with the marijuana industry as a whole this year. Since the year began, the cannabis industry has gained legitimacy, setting the stage for what could be rapid growth for many years to come. In no particular order, here are the 15 ways marijuana history was made in 2018.
1. Canada legalized recreational marijuana
Even though this list is in no particular order, it could not begin without noting the end of nine decades of recreational marijuana prohibition in Canada. Following years of promises from Justin Trudeau, the Cannabis Act was passed in June, with adult-use pot sales commencing on October 17. When the industry is fully scaled within the next few years, most pundits will be looking for $5 billion or more in added annual sales.
2. Two more U.S. states legalized medical weed
During midterm elections, residents in Missouri and the traditionally conservative state of Utah voted to approve their respective medical cannabis initiatives. This increased the number of states in the U.S. that have legalized medical marijuana in some capacity to 32 (along with Washington, D.C.). With nearly two-thirds of the country on board with medical weed, the push for reform on Capitol Hill is getting louder.
3. Vermont legalized adult-use pot entirely through the legislative process
On the recreational side of the equation, Vermont became the first state to approve adult-use marijuana entirely through the legislative process. There are two dozen states that don't have the initiative and referendum process, meaning they require lawmakers to take action in order for medical or recreational weed to be legalized. Vermont's actions could lead to other states following suit. After Michigan's legalization of adult-use pot in November, 10 states now have given recreational cannabis a green light.
4. Seniors put their support behind legalization
Historically, two groups of people haven't supported the legalization of marijuana in the United States. One of those groups was seniors aged 55 and over. But in the October 2018 Gallup poll, that changed. This number previously hit 50% support for this age group in 2013 and 2017 (albeit it was still within the margin for error), but 59% of surveyed seniors supported legalization in the 2018 poll. What remains to be seen is if this is simply a reflection of supporters in the 35-to-54 age bracket getting older and moving into the 55-and-up bracket or a real change in perception toward cannabis among seniors.
5. So did Republicans
Not only did seniors change their tune on cannabis -- so did Republicans. In the latest Gallup poll, 53% of self-identified Republicans now favor the idea of legalizing marijuana in the United States. Understandably, this still is well below the support offered by self-identified Democrats (75%) and Independents (71%), but it raises hope in Washington that reform eventually may be a possibility.
6. The first cannabis-derived drug was approved by the FDA
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found itself in unchartered territory in June when it approved GW Pharmaceuticals' (GWPH) Epidiolex as a treatment for two rare forms of childhood-onset epilepsy. Though the FDA has given the green light to thousands of drugs before, it's never approved a cannabis-derived drug until Epidiolex.
GW Pharmaceuticals' lead drug is a cannabidiol (CBD)-based oral solution that dazzled in multiple late-stage trials and reduced seizure frequency compared to the placebo for Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome patients. GW Pharmaceuticals' landmark approval may even lead to broad-based CBD reform at the federal level. CBD is the non-psychoactive cannabinoid best known for its medical benefits.
7. Tilray made IPO history
Investors might remember Canadian grower Tilray best for its ridiculous run from a listing price of $17 in mid-July to its intraday peak of $300 a share by mid-September. But what makes Tilray truly noteworthy is that it chose to take its initial public offering to the Nasdaq. In doing so, Tilray became the first marijuana stock to IPO on a major U.S. exchange.
8. Cronos Group was the first to uplist to a major exchange
Speaking of being listed on major U.S. exchanges, Canadian pot grower Cronos Group (CRON 2.68%) became a game changer of its own in late February when it became the first marijuana stock to uplist from the over-the-counter (OTC) exchange to the Nasdaq. Why uplist, you ask? The simple answer is that it gave institutional investors more reason to consider buying into the Cronos growth story.
Not all institutional firms will cover and/or purchase OTC-listed stocks. By listing on a major U.S. exchange, Cronos is now situated side by side with time-tested businesses.
9. Canopy Growth became the first pot stock to list on the NYSE
Along those same lines, Canopy Growth (CGC 1.73%) became the first marijuana stock to uplist from the OTC exchange to the iconic New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in May. Like Cronos, the move was made to boost institutional interest, improve liquidity, and increase visibility for a now legitimate business model. Interestingly enough, Canopy Growth would have beaten Cronos Group to a major U.S. exchange in 2017 had it not received an equity investment from the company in the next history-making point.
10. Constellation Brands orchestrated the largest equity investment in cannabis history
In 2018, Modelo and Corona beer maker Constellation Brands (STZ 0.11%) made the largest equity investment in a marijuana stock (Canopy Growth) in history: $4 billion. The stake was actually the third such time Constellation had invested in Canopy. In October 2017, it purchased a 9.9% stake for $190 million. Then, over this past summer, it acquired a third of Canopy's 600 million Canadian dollar convertible-note offering. Aside from simply developing new products such as cannabis-infused beverages, this bet demonstrates that Constellation sees a bright future for the cannabis industry.
11. Aurora Cannabis made a big purchase
This year also saw the largest marijuana acquisition come to fruition. In July, Aurora Cannabis (ACB 2.48%) completed its $2.5 billion purchase of Ontario-based MedReleaf, adding 140,000 kilograms of peak annual production in the process. Aurora Cannabis has been an aggressive acquirer in 2018 as it also purchased CanniMed Therapeutics for $852 million and ICC Labs for just over $220 million. By the time Aurora Cannabis' expansion is complete, it may top 700,000 kilograms in annual output.
12. The first marijuana stock to become a large cap
Aside from landing a major equity investment from Constellation Brands, Canopy Growth also was the first pot stock to boast a large-cap valuation (i.e., $10 billion or higher). Even though Tilray's incredible run-up briefly took it to a $28 billion market cap, Canopy Growth has regularly been the valuation leader for the cannabis industry.
13. The import of medical weed into the U.S.
Despite the U.S. federal government maintaining a Schedule I classification on cannabis (i.e., wholly illegal, prone to abuse, and not recognized as having medical benefits), 2018 was the first year where the import of medical marijuana was allowed. In October, Canopy Growth completed the first legal medical export from Canada of cannabis products to the United States. It's unclear if this means the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is changing its tune on pot, but this was a welcome change for industry enthusiasts.
14. The passage of the Farm Bill
Although it's not a 100% "cannabis" milestone, the U.S. passage of the Farm Bill is one heck of a turnaround for a country that seemingly shunned anything having to do with marijuana and hemp just a few decades ago. The passage of the Farm Bill this week will legalize industrial hemp production, as well as hemp-based CBD products. Hemp contains very low quantities of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive cannabinoid that gets a user high, but is rich in high-margin CBD.
15. Bank of Montreal offers traditional financing solutions to a pot stock
Lastly, Bank of Montreal became the first large financial institution to offer non-dilutive financing options to marijuana stocks. In February, Bank of Montreal co-led a round of funding for Canopy Growth with GMP Securities that ultimately raised about $136 million.
It's been a history-making year for the marijuana industry in 2018. I can't wait to see what 2019 has in store.