The cannabis industry has had a rough few months, with disappointing earnings from several companies and an FDA crackdown on aggressive advertising. But in the midst of all this turbulence, one very unlikely state has offered the industry much-needed good news. And it could present the next big growth opportunity in the cannabis industry –– one both companies and investors might overlook. 

Oklahoma's promising pot prospects

As a market for cannabis, Oklahoma may not register on a lot of people's radars – but perhaps it should. As of November, more than 200,000 people in the state now have medical marijuana cards – a significant 5% of the state's roughly 4 million people. To put that into perspective, consider that Florida, one of the hottest states for medical marijuana, has over 300,000 registered medical marijuana users, just 1.4% of its more than 21 million residents. 

The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority has been issuing cards at a rapid pace. As of July 1, the state had approved 146,381 applications, more than double the 63,467 that were approved back in March. In less than four months, the number of medical marijuana cardholders more than doubled. Florida was hovering around the 200,000-cardholder mark in February. While about 100,000 more people have signed up since then, its growth rate has been closer to 50%. But given the high number of medical marijuana patients registered in Florida, it would be a tall task to be able to double that figure. 

Cannabis greenhouse.

Image source: Getty Images.

According to data from the Oklahoma Tax Commission, medical marijuana revenue in the state reached $258 million year to date through the end of October. That number could grow to $350 million by the end of the year. In Florida, marijuana-related sales could top $500 million this year. That's not a big gap between the two states, given that Florida has more patients and a much more developed market, with Trulieve, which is one of the most dominant cannabis companies in the state, having recently opened its 40th dispensary there. 

Given the attention that markets like Florida and California have gotten from the cannabis industry, many cannabis companies could be overlooking Oklahoma's opportunity. And with Oklahoma allowing out-of-state patients to obtain temporary licenses, cannabis producers could set up shop in the state and tap into traffic from neighboring states as well. It may only be a matter of time before cannabis companies start focusing more on Oklahoma as a very strategic expansion opportunity.

One company that might benefit

Acreage Holdings (OTC:ACRGF) merits investors' attention in the Oklahoma market. Acreage expected Oklahoma operations to commence in 2019, but it hasn't yet formally confirmed that.  However, the company still has Oklahoma on its radar, and Acreage plans to launch its operations there within the next 12 months.  

Currently, Acreage is planning one retail location as well as two wholesale ones in the state. Although it's still a modest footprint, it's not unlike that of many other states, as Acreage has multiple retail locations up and running in Connecticut, Maine, New York, Ohio, and Oregon. The majority of the 17 states in which it has retail operations have only one location. Acreage groups Oklahoma in its Midwest segment, along with Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, North Dakota, and Ohio. That segment could be a significant one for the company, but it may take some time for it to develop. Only two of the states -- Illinois and Ohio -- are marked as "developing," while the others are still in their "emerging" stages.

The multi-state cannabis operator's vast experience in growing its operations will give it a big advantage over other new entrants into Oklahoma. However, as the state continues to become a more popular landing spot, other cannabis companies will likely jump in as well. Curaleaf Holdings is a significant competitor with operations in several states that could also expand into Oklahoma as well.

Over the long term, there could be significant growth opportunities for Acreage in many of these Midwest states, especially Oklahoma. However, it's important for the company to prioritize this attractive market, as it may only be a matter of time before other big multistate operators begin to eye the state as an expansion target as well. Currently, more than 2,100 dispensary licenses have been issued in the state. In what could be the next big battleground for cannabis, investors keen on marijuana stocks might want to keep a close eye on Acreage.