Last year was supposed to be when marijuana stocks proved their worth to Wall Street. Following years of promises, and plenty of acquisition activity, it was widely believed that sales would soar and pot stocks would push into the profit column by year's end.

Instead, cannabis stocks logged their worst year yet, with supply issues in Canada leading to pot product shortages and/or bottlenecks in key provinces, and high tax rates in a handful of recreationally legal U.S. states leaving the door wide open for the black market to thrive. Although there's no doubt that there's plenty of money to be had by investing in the green rush, the marijuana industry's growth trajectory has certainly been flattened and pushed out a bit.

Nevertheless, there are a handful of pot stocks that are fully capable of outperforming in a challenging environment. Based on their existing growth trajectory and Wall Street's very fluid sales projections, I view four vertically integrated multistate operators (MSO) in the U.S. as the likeliest to hit $1 billion in annual sales on a recurring basis by 2022, or possibly even sooner.

A handful of dried cannabis buds lying atop a messy pile of cash.

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Curaleaf Holdings

The most logical choice of all MSOs is Curaleaf (OTC:CURLF), for a variety of reasons. To start with, management forecast $1 billion in annual sales back in August for fiscal 2020. Wall Street hasn't done much adjusting to its own forecast, with analysts also expecting close to $1 billion in sales for the current year.

Curaleaf's growth is expected to be derived organically and from acquisitions. On an organic basis, its 53 operational stores are more than any other MSO, period. The more stores Curaleaf can open, the quicker it's liable to reach the $1 billion sales plateau.

On the acquisition front, Curaleaf closed its purchase of Select on Feb. 1, 2020, and expects to close on its all-stock deal to acquire private-held MSO Grassroots soon. When the Grassroots purchase closes, Curaleaf will have north of six dozen open dispensaries, as well as licenses to open as many as 131 retail stores spanning 19 states. Right now, Curaleaf has access to 12 states. 

Even if Curaleaf fails to meet expectations in 2020, it currently looks to be the lead dog in terms of sales, putting it on track to hit $1 billion annually by no later than 2021.

A green highway sign that reads, Welcome to California, with a white cannabis leaf on the right-hand side.

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Cresco Labs

If there were a perfect motto to describe Cresco Labs' (OTC:CRLBF), it would read, "California or bust!" That's because, following the completion of its acquisition of Origin House, and other cash-conserving moves, Cresco Labs' future is very much dependent on the Golden State.

The all-stock deal to buy Origin House was particularly intriguing given that Origin House is one of only a few cannabis distribution license holders in California. With most MSOs aiming to buy retail stores and cultivation farms, this was a first-of-its-kind move, at least on a large scale. The expectation is that Cresco Labs will use Origin House's distribution network to gain access to more than 575 licensed dispensaries in California, and thereby sell its products in these retail stores. With California being the largest marijuana market in the world by annual sales, the Golden State is Cresco's ticket to $1 billion in annual revenue.

The major concern here is that California has largely disappointed since adult-use sales commenced on Jan. 1, 2018. Too few dispensaries have been licensed, meanwhile taxation on legalized product remains far too high, giving black market producers the upper hand. Assuming California uses 2020 to effectively work through its problems, I believe Cresco has a reasonable shot at $1 billion in sales by 2022.

An assortment of jars packed with unique strains of cannabis.

Image source: Getty Images.

Green Thumb Industries

Another MSO that's been exceptionally efficient in the early going and should make a serious run at $1 billion in yearly revenue by 2022 is Green Thumb Industries (OTC:GTBIF).

Perhaps the biggest lure for Green Thumb is the company's ability to target core markets. At the end of January, GTI, as the company is known, opened its 41st store nationwide, but its seventh in Illinois. As you might already know, Illinois became the first state ever to legalize the consumption and retail sale of pot at the legislative level -- and it commenced adult-use weed sales on Jan. 1, 2020. By 2024, Illinois should be producing in excess of $1.1 billion in annual pot revenue, and GTI expects to have a solid portion of those sales

Green Thumb also successfully pushed into the Nevada market via its acquisition of Integral Associates and its Essence-branded dispensaries. The eight licenses GTI received when it acquired Integral Associates firmly placed it in a market that could lead the country in per-capita cannabis spending within five years.

According to Wall Street, GTI is on track for $466 million in sales in 2020, but that should rise handsomely in 2021 and 2022 if the company targets around 20 to 25 new store openings per year. With 96 retail licenses held in 12 states, GTI has a real shot at $1 billion in sales by 2022.

A large cannabis dispensary sign in front of a retail store.

Image source: Getty Images.

Harvest Health & Recreation

Last, but not least, Harvest Health & Recreation (OTC:HRVSF) appears to have a real shot at hitting $1 billion in annual sales by 2021 or 2022, if certain things go its way.

One factor working in its favor is the company's sheer number of licenses held. Even after terminating an acquisition, Harvest Health still possesses licenses to approximately 130 retail locations in 18 states, on a pro forma basis (i.e., assuming all pending deals close). This puts the company more or less on par with Curaleaf in the retail department, albeit it has fewer currently open locations.

The big event that could swing the pendulum here is the 2020 elections. Harvest Health has the largest presence of any MSO in Arizona, a state that's legalized medical marijuana, but could soon be voting on recreational pot. Likewise, New Jersey residents will be voting to legalize adult-use pot, which is a state that holds significance for Harvest Health.

Considering that Harvest Health also has cannabidiol (CBD) product deals in place with well over 10,000 gas stations and convenience stores around the country, it looks to have the tools necessary to surpass $1 billion in sales by 2021 or 2022.