In 2019, the vast majority of licensed cannabis producers have been losing money at a time when investors were expecting the profits to start rolling in. Among those with at least $20 million in annual sales, all but a handful reported losses in the most recent quarter. 

The Public Cannabis Company Revenue Tracker at New Cannabis Ventures currently lists just seven companies in North America with operations that squeaked out a profit during their most recent quarter. Here's how the top three performers have been able to make money while their peers report accelerating losses. 

Company (Symbol) Market Cap Adjusted Operating Income Quarter Ended
Trulieve (OTC:TCNNF) $1.1 billion $16.5 million 03/31/19
Organigram (NASDAQ:OGI) $952 million $4.8 million 02/28/19
Innovative Industrial Properties (NYSE:IIPR) $1.3 billion $3.4 million 03/31/19

Data sources: Yahoo! Finance, and New Cannabis Ventures.

1. Trulieve: Well positioned

After excluding fair value changes that cannabis growers are required to report, Trulieve's operations produced a $16.5 million profit. That made it the most profitable cannabis producer on the continent.

Trulieve holds an enviable position in Florida's burgeoning market for medical marijuana, thanks to its headquarters near the state capital and 14 dispensaries grandfathered in before the state decided to limit retail locations to 25 per operator. At the end of May, Trulieve operated 28 of the state's 123 open dispensaries, and Trulieve can go all the way up to 44.

The state of Florida offers much wider profit margins than many states with older programs, because dispensary operators can only sell products that they cultivate and process in their own state-licensed facilities.

Although Trulieve has been the most profitable cannabis producer around, it may have trouble holding the title in 2020 and beyond. Unsatisfied with profits from its Florida-based businesses, Trulieve has been buying up assets in Massachusetts, California, and Connecticut that could struggle to provide a return.  

Pot leaf and a hundred dollar bill.

Image source: Getty Images.

2. Organigram: Canada's finest

This company is proof that licensed Canadian producers can make money if they're careful. Organigram reported earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) that reached an impressive 49% of net revenue in the first quarter. 

Organigram reported net revenue that soared 117% over the previous quarter. Over the same time frame spending on sales, general, and administrative expenses rose just 27% to CA$5.7 million.

Organigram was the only Canadian cannabis producer with significant revenue that churned out a profit during its most recently reported quarter. Although it has all of its peers beat, the stock's been trading at 23.7 times trailing sales, which is awfully high for most consumer goods companies with commoditized products. 

Licensed cannabis inventories in Canada have been rising, leading investors to fear possible inventory writedowns in the near future. While its peers have trouble producing products that Canadians actually want to buy, Organigram is moving its products through the supply chain without much trouble at all. According to Health Canada, inventories of cannabis oil reached 119,696 liters in April, which would last around 14 months at the country's current consumption rate. Organigram's oil inventory actually fell during the three months ended February, to 6,246 liters after the company sold 5,735 liters during the period.

Cannabis growing operation.

Image source: Getty Images.

3. Innovative Industrial Properties: The cannabis landlord

Innovative Industrial Properties has been the best performing cannabis stock this year thanks to steadily rising profits. That's because IIP's a real estate investment trust (REIT) that lets U.S.-based cannabis producers with limited financing options borrow money to buy and renovate cultivation and processing facilities. 

A steady stream of customers has allowed the company's property portfolio to expand along with a dividend that offers a meager 1.9% yield at recent prices even though the payout's been growing by leaps and bounds. Over the past year, the IIP's increased its payout by 140%, and a repeat performance could make you very rich.

IIP sports a rapidly growing portfolio of properties that are 100% occupied by tenants that have signed long-term leases with annual rent increases built in that should provide a 15% return on capital invested. Of course, if a few of its tenants can't pay their rent over the course of leases that generally last 15 years, it could be hard to squeak out a positive return with this stock.

Cannabis plants in an indoor grow facility.

Image source: Getty Images.

Before you dive in 

You should probably know that IIP's been lending money to vertically integrated cannabis producers that might have more trouble paying their rent than expected. Trulieve's foray into markets outside of its backyard might pay off, but solidifying its Florida presence seems like a better, albeit unglamorous, alternative.

While IIP, Organigram, and Trulieve are clearly doing something right, now's probably not a great time to buy any of these stocks. There's a good chance that Canadian producers will announce inventory writedowns before the end of the year, and the aftershocks of such a big wake-up call could indiscriminately knock down shares of companies producing profits along with the rest of the industry. That's not necessarily a bad outcome. If you're patient, you might be able to scoop up one of these businesses at a deep discount in 2020.

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.