Over the next decade, legal cannabis is expected to be one of the fastest growing industries on the planet. After generating $10.9 billion in legal worldwide sales in 2018, various Wall Street estimates have called for between $50 billion and $200 billion in global sales in roughly a decade's time. No matter how you slice the data, it calls for an average annual growth rate that's in the double digits.
However, these global sales figures are a bit misleading, because the United States is expected to make up such a considerable portion of global sales. Investment bank Stifel, which has the most aggressive 10-year sales forecast on Wall Street, is calling for $100 billion in annual legal weed sales in the U.S., comprising half of all global sales. Meanwhile, Christopher Carey at Bank of America believes the U.S. can account for 34% of his firm's utopian global annual sales target of $166 billion.
There is, of course, one not-so-tiny problem: Marijuana is illegal, according to the federal government's Schedule I classification of the drug. Still, this hasn't stopped individual states from passing medical and/or recreational cannabis legislation over the past 23 years. Today, 33 states have legalized medical marijuana, with 11 others allowing (or soon to allow) adult-use consumption.
California is expected to be the biggest cannabis market in the U.S....
Given the importance of the U.S. market in terms of global cannabis revenue, it only makes sense for investors, and pot stocks, to look to the U.S. for opportunity.
For example, it's no secret that around half of Canada's major growers have announced plans to enter the U.S. hemp and/or cannabidiol (CBD) market to get their feet in the door. Although working directly with cannabis in the U.S. is still a no-no for these Canadian growers as it could affect their U.S. stock listings, pushing into the U.S. hemp and CBD market is a means of building relationships, establishing distribution networks, and laying much-needed infrastructure on U.S. soil, if and when the federal government legalizes marijuana.
Of course, for those companies that are able to directly partake of the legal industry as the state level, and for investors, it's California that often garners all of the attention. The Golden State, which is the fifth-largest economy in the world by itself, projects to sell as much as $11 billion in legal weed by 2030, according to Wall Street estimates.
According to a new report, State of the Legal Cannabis Markets, by Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics, the $7.2 billion in cannabis spending set to take place in California in 2024 – a near-tripling from the $2.52 billion spent in 2018 -- should represent a quarter of total legal weed spending throughout the entire country. This is why so many cannabis stocks have flocked to California in recent years.
...but it may not be the best marijuana market
But what if I told you that California, despite its clear lead in annual sales, may not be the most lucrative state in the country with regard to cannabis?
Let's not forget that California's aggregate tax on marijuana is higher than any other state in the country. Consumers are paying a state tax, local tax, excise tax, and some form of wholesale tax on either cannabis flower or leaves, all of which have been passed down the line from seed-to-sale. The aggregate tax can, therefore, hit as high as 45% on consumers. This high tax rate has been fueling a persistent black market in the Golden State, which could wind up constraining sales and margins for pot stocks operating in the state.
Rather, a more intriguing metric offered in State of the Legal Cannabis Markets -- spending per capita -- suggests that another state could blow California out of the water in terms of attractiveness to businesses and investors: Nevada.
Between 2018 and 2024, Arcview and BDS are forecasting that Nevada's population will increase about 10% to 3.4 million. Yet, with the Silver State opening its doors to recreational marijuana sales in July 2017, total legal spending is expected to surge from $567 million in 2018 to $1.41 billion by 2024. On a per-capita basis, this works out to $415.57 in spending. That's more than double California ($172.08), and is higher than every other state in the country.
Here's how you can take advantage of the most lucrative marijuana market in the U.S.
It's no secret that Nevada's exceptionally high spending per capita forecast stems from the state's strong tourism. Las Vegas is a core attraction for Americans and visitors from all over the world, which should allow cannabis companies to focus their attention on Sin City to drive sales and margins. Plus, Nevadans are faced with a combined 25% tax rate, including a 15% tax on wholesale sales, and 10% on retail sales. That's significantly less than neighbor California, which should help reduce illicit production.
Assuming Arcview's and BDS Analytics' projections prove relatively accurate, there are a number of ways to play the most lucrative market in the United States.
First, there's the most unique dispensary operator: Planet 13 Holdings (PLNH.F 0.65%). Planet 13 operates the largest cannabis store in the U.S. – a 112,000-square-foot (when complete) SuperStore just west of the Strip in Las Vegas. Planet 13 is aiming to make its store a must-see experience for marijuana enthusiasts, and its traffic data suggests it's been successful in doing so. Since opening its doors in November, average daily visitors have nearly doubled, paying customers have risen by almost 50%, and the average ticket is up around $10. Planet 13's focus on incorporating technology into its stores, as well as its margin-driven layout, should make it a long-term winner.
Green Thumb Industries (GTBIF -2.00%) is a more brand-name dispensary operator in Nevada to consider. Green Thumb worked its way into Sin City by acquiring Integral Associates, a company that had been operating dispensaries under the Essence brand. And, in case you were curious, Essence is the first and only dispensary licensed to operate on the Las Vegas Strip. Unlike Planet 13, which only recently announced plans to open a second mega-store in Santa Ana, Calif., Green Thumb operates in one dozen U.S. states and is closing in on 100 retail licenses.
Investors could also consider a Nevada-focused grower, such as Flower One Holdings (FLOOF). Flower One's flagship facility, located in North Las Vegas, features 400,000 square feet that's been fully planted, as well as 55,000 square feet devoted to processing and the creation of derivative cannabis products (e.g., edibles). When combined with the grow farm Flower One inherited with its NLV Organics purchase, the company anticipates producing close to 67,000 kilos a year, working out to well over 100 grams per square foot.
In short, there could be plenty of ways to profit from the United States' most lucrative, yet under-the-radar, marijuana market.