Several big Canadian marijuana stocks got off to a great start early in 2019. But momentum for many of these stocks slowed down in February. Instead, a different group of marijuana stocks took center stage.

Two cannabis-focused biotechs, Insys Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:INSY) and GW Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:GWPH), ranked among the five best-performing marijuana stocks last month. CannTrust Holdings (OTC:CNTTQ) and Village Farms International (NASDAQ:VFF) made the list for February but aren't in the top tier of Canadian marijuana producers. And one U.S.-based company that isn't a biotech landed in the top five as well -- Innovative Industrial Properties (NYSE:IIPR).

Why did these five marijuana stocks outperform all others in February? And are they smart picks for investors to buy now?

Five increasingly higher stacks of coins with marijuana plants on top

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Insys Therapeutics

Insys Therapeutics shares skyrocketed 83% in February. You might be surprised to have seen the cannabis-focused biotech as the No. 1 marijuana stock last month.

The only announcement from Insys related to its presentation at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI) annual meeting about results from a study of its epinephrine nasal spray. But that presentation was on Feb. 24 -- after Insys stock had already surged. 

Insys did receive publicity in February, but it was of the negative kind. Videos were shown on TV and shared on social media of former Insys executives and managers in a rap video to motivate the company's sales team to promote opioid drug Subsys.

So why did Insys shares soar last month? The most likely reason is that the stock had fallen so much that some investors thought it was a bargain, with their buying leading to a short squeeze. Insys was one of the 10 worst-performing marijuana stocks of 2018. It also was one of only two marijuana stocks to fall in January.

2. Village Farms International

Village Farms' gain in February was only 0.02% behind Insys. That's close enough to almost call it a tie for first place.

The Canadian marijuana and produce grower enjoyed two key catalysts last month. Village Farms announced on Feb. 8 that its Pure Sunfarms joint venture landed a supply agreement with the Ontario Cannabis Store. More good news came later in the month with Village Farms' listing on the Nasdaq Capital Market stock exchange.

Check out the latest earnings call transcripts for GW Pharmaceuticals, CannTrust Holdings, Innovative Industrial Properties, and other companies we cover.

3. Innovative Industrial Properties

Innovative Industrial Properties stock jumped nearly 25% in February. Shares of the cannabis-focused real estate investment trust (REIT) muddled along for most of the month but took off in the past week.

The company announced late in the month that its operating partnership subsidiary, IIP Operating Partnership, conducted a private offering of exchangeable senior notes. Was that the main catalyst for Innovative Industrial Properties' nice gains? Probably not. Instead, it seems more likely that investors simply poured money into the stock because of the company's perceived growth prospects and relative safety compared with most marijuana stocks. 

4. CannTrust Holdings

CannTrust stock vaulted 22% higher last month. It's easy to identify why the Canadian marijuana producer enjoyed such a strong performance.

On Feb. 20, CannTrust shares began trading on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). The company picked up significantly more exposure to U.S. investors with the move and became the third Canadian marijuana producer to list on the NYSE.

5. GW Pharmaceuticals

GW Pharmaceuticals rounds out the top five best-performing marijuana stocks in February, with a gain of nearly 18%. And, as was the case with CannTrust, it's easy to spot why the cannabis-focused biotech performed so well.

GW announced better-than-expected Q4 results on Feb. 26 after the market closed. The stock soared the next day as a result of investors' enthusiasm over a great launch for Epidiolex, the first plant-based marijuana drug approved in the United States. 

Are they buys now?

I think some of these hot marijuana stocks from February are still buys and some aren't. Let's start with the stocks I'm not very excited about.

Insys Therapeutics was the biggest winner last month, but I'm not convinced its momentum will continue. As mentioned, I suspect that a short squeeze was at play with Insys. If that's the case, once it plays out the stock could fall hard. I'm not convinced that the business fundamentals are in place for Insys to be a great pick at this point.

I'm not too enthused about Village Farms, either. It's certainly great news that the company's joint venture is selling recreational marijuana products in Canada's largest province. Village Farms' listing on the Nasdaq is a plus, too. However, the company is a small fish in a big pond -- and I think the waters in that pond could get choppy after supply catches up to demand in Canada.

While some predicted that Epidiolex would be a dud in the marketplace, I have been optimistic about the drug's chances. I think GW Pharmaceuticals is going to have a great year in 2019. However, the biotech's market cap reflects most of the near-term growth potential for the stock. My view is to sit on the sidelines with GW for now.

That leaves CannTrust and Innovative Industrial Properties. I like both stocks and think they're good picks even after the big jumps in February.

CannTrust is ramping up its production capacity. It has a partnership with Breakthru Beverage Group, the largest Canadian alcohol beverage broker. It's making some moves in international markets. I view CannTrust as an up-and-comer in the marijuana industry.

For investors looking to dip their toes in the waters of marijuana stocks, I think Innovative Industrial Properties is a good stock to start with. It even pays a dividend that yields a little under 2%. Like any stock, and especially marijuana stocks, Innovative Industrial Properties has some risks. But in my opinion, it's one of the top marijuana stocks to buy right now

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.