When the year began, it appeared as if cannabis stocks could do no wrong. The first quarter featured over a dozen pot stocks that gained at least 70%, with the Horizons Marijuana Life Sciences ETF, the very first cannabis-focused exchange-traded fund, chugging higher by 50%. But ever since the first quarter ended, it's been a nightmare for pot stock investors.

During November, the Horizons Marijuana Life Sciences ETF shed another 12% of its value, and has lost 56%, including dividends paid, since the end of March. In total, just 13 of the 57 marijuana stocks I track finished November higher, with well over half (33) ending the month lower by a double-digit percentage.

Thankfully, there were a few standouts among pure-play pot stocks. The following six marijuana stocks ended November higher by at least 10% and offer hope in what's currently a very challenging industry to invest in.

A cannabis leaf lying atop a neat stack of one hundred dollar bills.

Image source: Getty Images.

Curaleaf Holdings: Up 28%

Topping the list of cannabis performers in November is the largest vertically integrated multistate operator in the U.S., Curaleaf Holdings (OTC:CURLF). Curaleaf's 28% gain in an otherwise dreary month for pot stocks looks to be based on the company's release of its third-quarter operating results, as well as optimism surrounding the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act.

About two weeks ago, Curaleaf reported its third-quarter results, which featured a record $129 million in pro forma revenue (i.e., if all pending acquisitions were completed), and $34 million in gross profit before fair-value adjustments, up from $13 million in gross profit in the year-ago period. Although Curaleaf's net revenue appears to have come up just shy of Wall Street's forecasts, the company's $0.01 per share loss in Q3 was $0.01 narrower than analysts had expected. Considering how many pot stocks have been losing more money than was forecast by Wall Street, this was a nice surprise. 

Investors were also clearly excited about the House Judiciary Committee voting 24-10 in favor of the MORE Act, which would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level in the U.S., expunge a number of previous cannabis convictions, and establish a 5% federal tax on weed. Unfortunately, there doesn't look to be a path for the MORE Act to become law anytime soon.

A large cannabis dispensary sign outside of a retail store.

Image source: Getty Images.

Liberty Health Sciences: Up 27%

Compared to Curaleaf, dispensary operator Liberty Health Sciences (OTC:LHSIF) is a tiny tot, and yet it rallied 27% for the exact same reasons in November.

The day before Halloween, Liberty Health unveiled its fiscal second-quarter operating results, which certainly provided a temporary spark in interest among investors. The Florida-focused company that recently opened its 19th retail location in the Sunshine State wound up recording $10.6 million Canadian (about $8 million) in net sales and CA$5 million in gross profit, before fair-value adjustments. That's a 400% improvement in gross profit from the prior-year quarter. With operating expenses coming in slightly higher than the year-ago period at CA$5.4 million, Liberty Health came very close to generating a true operating profit, without the aid of fair-value adjustments (although it did generate a profit with fair-value adjustments). 

Similarly, the company surged on news of the MORE Act's historic vote in the House. However, as long as Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) remains Senate Majority Leader, there's virtually no chance of any cannabis reform legislation making it to the Senate floor for vote.

A sign that reads, Now Entering Florida, with a white cannabis leaf on the right-hand side.

Image source: Getty Images.

Trulieve Cannabis: Up 27%

Not to sound like a broken record, but the third-best performer in November was Trulieve Cannabis (OTC:TCNNF), a company that reported strong operating results and has a major focus on the Florida market, like Curaleaf and Liberty Health Sciences.

Trulieve, which is absolutely dominating in the Sunshine State and is preparing to open its 40th store, delivered what I believe is the best marijuana stock earnings report to date two weeks ago. Trulieve's quarterly sales rocketed up to $70.7 million from $28.3 million in the year-ago period, all while the company's $44 million in gross profit trounced its $20.6 million in operating expenses. In other words, Trulieve produced a real operating profit, without the need for fair-value adjustments or one-time benefits, of $23.4 million. Similar to Liberty Health, Trulieve benefited in a big way from fair-value adjustments, and ultimately delivered a $0.55 per share Q3 profit. 

Once again, the MORE Act was behind a lot of the late-month move higher in Trulieve, even with the prospect of passage in the bill looking grim in the near term.

An immersion case line inside the Planet 13 SuperStore in Las Vegas, Nevada, with around two dozen dried flower samples.

Image source: Planet 13.

Planet 13 Holdings: Up 17%

If you haven't noticed the trend by now, it's that U.S. multistate operators were about the only place to find gains in November. Small-cap Planet 13 Holdings (OTC:PLNHF) wound up gaining 17% last month after reporting its customer traffic in October for its flagship SuperStore in Las Vegas, and (yet again) following the MORE Act vote.

Planet 13 is among the most transparent pot stocks in that it provides monthly updates on total visitors, paying customers, average ticket size, and, when available, the percentage of Nevada's cannabis sales it handles. In October, Planet 13's flagship store generated an average ticket of $94.48 at checkout, which is nearly $15 per ticket higher than Nov. 2018, the month the SuperStore opened to the public. Planet 13 has also been accounting for more than 9% of Nevada's total weed sales on a pretty consistent basis over the past six months. 

Interestingly enough, Planet 13's shares fell following its third-quarter earnings release, despite this transparency via monthly reports. My expectation is that investors will be pretty pleased once the higher costs associated with the SuperStore buildout end, leading to a notable uptick in margins.

Four vials of cannabinoid-rich liquid lined up on a counter.

Image source: Getty Images.

Valens GroWorks: Up 13%

If you're looking for some variety in this top-performers list, Valens GroWorks (OTC:VGWCF) and its 13% November gain is it. That's because Valens is a Canadian-focused extraction-services provider, and the company reported its operating results in mid-October.

The honest truth is there's nothing in particular that can be pinpointed for Valens GroWorks' top-tier performance among Canadian weed stocks last month. One possible answer is the upcoming launch of derivative pot products in Canada. Derivatives, such as edibles, infused beverages, and vapes, are set to hit dispensary shelves in about two weeks, and the extracts that Valens yields for its clients from cannabis and hemp are critical elements of these high-margin derivatives.

Another possible explanation for Valens' solid performance in November might have to do with its valuation. Although most cannabis stocks appear pricy given the problems the industry is encountering throughout North America, Valens' management team has proclaimed its company to be the most profitable in Canada. After all, this is a company that, in mid-October, grew its sequential quarterly sales by 87% and generated a CA$0.05 per share profit. 

Two miniature shopping carts, one of which contains a cannabis flower, with the other holding vials of cannabis oil.

Image source: Getty Images.

Green Thumb Industries: Up 10%

Last, but not least, put your surprised face on because it's another vertically integrated multistate operator in the United States, Green Thumb Industries (OTC:GTBIF). Green Thumb gained 10% after reporting its third-quarter operating results on the same day that the House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of the MORE Act (Nov. 20).

For the quarter, Green Thumb, which projects as one of the top licensed retailers of cannabis in the U.S., nearly quadrupled sales from the year-ago period to $68 million, all while generating gross profit before fair-value adjustments of $34.8 million. Total expenses did wind up outpacing this true gross profit by a small amount, leading to a net loss of $0.08 per share. However, despite the modestly wider-than-anticipated loss, Green Thumb's sales actually topped Wall Street's expectations, thereby earning it some interest from buyers. 

Also, as we've seen from every other company on this list, sans Valens GroWorks, the MORE Act has a lot of investors excited about the possibility for reform at the federal level. I don't believe that's a remote possibility before mid-2021, at the earliest, but the cannabis industry has surprised us before, so we'll see what happens.