The marijuana industry had a game-changing year in 2018. Namely, for the first time in history, it shed the moniker of being taboo and stepped into the spotlight as a legitimate business model. This occurred when, after nine decades of recreational pot prohibition, Canada officially allowed adult-use weed to go on sale in October.
Of course, validity has taken numerous forms in recent months, be it the legalization of hemp and hemp-based cannabidiol oil in the U.S., the approval of the first cannabis-derived drug by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or something as simple as publicly traded pot stocks uplisting from the over-the-counter (OTC) exchange to a more reputable exchange, such as the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) or Nasdaq.
Uplisting is all the rage
In 2018, five companies officially made the move to these reputable U.S. exchanges, either through an uplisting from the OTC exchange or via an initial public offering. Cronos Group kicked things off in late February by becoming the first marijuana stock to uplist to the Nasdaq. It was followed in May by Canopy Growth, the largest marijuana stock in the world by market cap, moving to the NYSE. In July, Tilray made history by becoming the first pot stock to IPO on a major U.S. exchange (the Nasdaq). Then, in October and early November, Aurora Cannabis and Aphria, respectively, uplisted from the OTC exchange to the NYSE.
Somewhat recently, growers CannTrust Holdings and HEXO also announced that they had filed paperwork with the NYSE to uplist.
Why uplist, you ask? For starters, it places cannabis companies -- which, as noted, were previously considered taboo -- side by side with time-tested businesses. That further cements the legitimacy of this business model and could encourage long-term investment, as well as improved liquidity.
Uplisting also has a good shot at improving visibility, coverage, and investment from Wall Street. Not all investment firms are able to buy into stocks that trade on the OTC exchange. By moving to the NYSE or Nasdaq, they're essentially rolling out the red carpet for Wall Street coverage and investment.
Of course, there's a caveat here. Since marijuana is still a Schedule I drug at the federal level in the U.S., weed businesses with U.S. operations can't list on the NYSE or Nasdaq. That's why we haven't seen a mad rush to these exchanges by a majority of pot stocks.
Which marijuana stocks will uplist next?
Nevertheless, 2019 could still see a handful of marijuana stocks making the move to reputable U.S. exchanges. Excluding CannTrust and HEXO, which already seem to be well on their way to making the move, here are three more pot stocks that could try to uplist sometime this year.
There's only one Canadian marijuana stock that seems to have a really good probability of uplisting in 2019, and that's Atlantic-based OrganiGram Holdings (NASDAQOTH:OGRMF). I say "really good probability" because there are tangible and intangible factors needed for a company to uplist to the NYSE or Nasdaq, and OrganiGram should be able to check most, if not all, of those boxes.
Despite being located in New Brunswick, far away from other major growers, OrganiGram has made a name for itself thanks to its growing efficiency. It has just a single grow site at Moncton, NB, and expects to complete construction on this facility by this coming October. Now, here's where things get interesting. Management projects OrganiGram will yield 113,000 kilograms annually when fully operational. That should be good enough to call OrganiGram a top-10 producer, yet it won't even have 500,000 square feet in growing capacity.
The reason it's able to generate such impressive yields is the company's use of a three-tiered growing system. This should ultimately reduce its growing costs to among the lowest in the industry and help it become profitable on an operating basis well before many of its peers.
OrganiGram's market cap of just over $600 million and its relatively low forward price-to-earnings ratio of 19 would likely make it very attractive from an investing standpoint. Uplisting to a reputable exchange could help lure long-term investors.
Auxly Cannabis Group
Another pot stock with a bit more of a long shot than OrganiGram to make it to the NYSE or Nasdaq is Auxly Cannabis Group (NASDAQOTH:CBWTF).
Auxly's roots lie as a cannabis royalty company. It would provide growers with up-front capital to expand their capacity in exchange for a percentage of their yield at a well-below-market rate. The idea being that Auxly Cannabis would then pocket the difference as profit, just as metal-mining royalty companies do. But this method didn't allow Auxly much flexibility if the per-gram price of dried flower were to decline, which has happened in a handful of U.S. states that've legalized recreational weed.
Thus, Auxly has created a vertically integrated business model with a mixture of royalty streams, wholly owned grow farms, value-added services and products, and downstream retail-focused operations. The only real drawback has been that most of its production isn't set to come online until sometime this year or 2020. Auxly could very well become a major player, with the company expected to handle 170,000 kilograms of cannabis each year. But without much in the way of revenue to show for it so far, uplisting may be difficult.
The company's market cap of $412 million is probably enough to land it a spot on a major exchange, but its sub-$1 share price and lack of revenue could create obstacles to uplisting.
Last but not least, there's vertically integrated cannabis company Aleafia Health (NASDAQOTH:ALEAF). Aleafia has growing facilities that are currently under construction, as well as medical cannabis clinics operating under the Canabo Medical Clinic brand.
Aleafia Health has actually already applied for listing on the Nasdaq, but it's unclear if it'll get the nod due to its size and an ongoing acquisition. Aleafia Health is in the midst of acquiring Emblem (NASDAQOTH:EMMBF), another like-minded pot company that chose to develop cannabis clinics and grow facilities rather than simply cranking out as much product as possible and hoping to find customers. When the Emblem transaction is complete, assuming shareholder and regulatory approval, the duo will have nearly 60,000 patients spread across 40 medical clinics and be capable of 138,000 kilograms of peak annual production. That's good enough for perhaps a top-six spot within Canada.
However, even when the buyout is complete, this is a duo that'll only have a combined market value of around $315 million and a share price hovering just above $1. That's relatively small to the other billion-dollar-plus and near-billion-dollar marijuana stocks that have uplisted.
Additionally, Aleafia Health only recorded revenue for the first time in its history in the previous quarter. It's possible that this company, or the combination with Emblem, won't check off all the boxes needed to uplist. Only time will tell.
Sean Williams has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Auxly Cannabis Group, CannTrust Holdings Inc, Hexo., Nasdaq, and OrganiGram Holdings. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.