2019 has been a good year for marijuana stocks so far, and it hasn't taken much effort to profit from investments in the industry. The broad-based marijuana exchange-traded fund ETFMG Alternative Harvest (NYSEMKT:MJ) has produced impressive returns, climbing 45% just since the beginning of the year and attracting more than $1.25 billion in assets.

When you look at the roughly three dozen stocks that the Alternative Harvest ETF owns, you'll find a lot of companies whose shares have risen 50% or more in the first three months of 2019. However, the three top performers among the ETF's holdings have done a whole lot better. Below, we'll take a closer look at how Green Organic Dutchman (OTC:TGOD.F), HEXO (NASDAQ:HEXO), and OrganiGram Holdings (NASDAQ:OGI) have outpaced their larger competitors in the cannabis industry and produced returns that have doubled what the marijuana ETF has given its investors.

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A near-double from the Dutchman

Green Organic Dutchman hasn't hit the radar of some U.S. marijuana investors, because unlike many of its peers, its shares don't trade on a major U.S. stock exchange like the New York Stock Exchange or the Nasdaq Stock Market. Nevertheless, Green Organic Dutchman has made a big impression on the Canadian market, and the company is taking a different approach that could help it build up a loyal customer base over the long run.

The majority of cannabis companies have focused most of their efforts on expanding as rapidly as possible in an effort to boost supply to meet soaring demand. Supply shortages make that strategy look attractive in the short run, but Green Organic Dutchman believes that treating cannabis solely as a commodity could be short-sighted. Instead, the company is aiming at the high end of the marijuana market, touting its organic product line and seeking to maintain premium pricing from customers who are willing to pay up for quality.

That doesn't mean that Green Organic Dutchman is standing still, as it has ambitious expansion plans. But it does mean that many investors have high hopes that the company can become the recognized brand leader when it comes to high-quality cannabis products.

Check out the latest earnings call transcripts for the companies we cover.

Hand holding a marijuana leaf with rows of cannabis plants in the background.

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HEXO makes a splash

HEXO recently remedied its recognition issue, uplisting to the NYSE and getting the attention of U.S. investors in cannabis companies. The Quebec-based company is a favorite in its home region within Canada, and it's also seeking growth through its recent acquisition of peer Newstrike Brands as well as its partnership with Molson Coors to explore cannabis-infused beverages.

One area that HEXO intends to pursue further is the European market. The cannabis company has a processing plant in Greece, and it hopes to supply marijuana products to European Union jurisdictions in which they're legal. As that market expands, it could help supplement the other revenue sources that HEXO has worked hard to cultivate, including its Hydropothecary subsidiary and its sales of sublingual THC spray.

OrganiGram gets noticed

A lot has been made of the sales opportunity for marijuana stocks, but few have focused much on cost. OrganiGram has done a good job of minimizing the expenses related to its cannabis production, integrating automation into its processes and seeking to maximize crop yields.

OrganiGram is also on the cutting edge of cannabis-related biotechnology, working with a partner called Hyasynth that's looking closely at producing cannabinoids from sources other than cannabis plants. If successful, that could cut production costs even further as well as shortening the length of time it takes to get valuable cannabinoid derivatives for distribution.

Where to from here?

After a huge gain for the Alternative Harvest ETF in the first quarter of 2019, there's no guarantee that the good times will last for the marijuana market or for these three stocks. However, if excitement about cannabis continues, then there are reasons to believe that OrganiGram, HEXO, and Organic Green Dutchman will remain in the limelight in the future. 

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.