Global markets are in distress amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and marijuana is one of the only sectors that's been comparatively on the safer side. At least, until now.

Rising cannabis sales helped Canadian pot companies recover to a slight extent this year. But challenges remain -- there are still few legal stores in most provinces, for example. Comparatively, U.S. marijuana companies are enjoying some good gains this year. While achieving positive profitability is still a dream for their Canadian peers, Curaleaf Holdings (CURLF -1.78%) and Green Thumb Industries (GTBIF -2.08%) are planning expansion.

Progressively higher stacks of coins with plants sprouting from them

Image source: Getty Images.

Curaleaf is strengthening its footing in other states

Massachusetts-based Curaleaf is speeding up its expansion plans despite the coronavirus crisis. In June, it announced a few of its growth strategies, including expanding its line of Select brand products into Connecticut. Select is a cannabis oil brand that Curaleaf acquired in February that is now popular in nine states -- Oregon, Colorado, Michigan, California, Nevada, Arizona, Maryland, Oklahoma, and now Connecticut.

Later, on June 29, the company added a few more states for the Select brand to capture the market -- Maine, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Florida. The expansion will happen by the end of the summer, and Curaleaf also expects to launch cannabis derivatives products under the Select brand for both medical and recreational customers.

Management also expects to grow in the New Jersey medical market through its acquisition of Curaleaf NJ (completed in July), which holds one of the original six medical licenses in the state. Management now plans to open two additional New Jersey dispensaries and one more cultivation and processing operation there. Management has high expectations of spreading their operations across even more markets with its acquisition of Grassroots, announced in July.

Revenue showed a 174% year-over-year increase, to $96.5 million. Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) were $20 million in Q1. Management said in a statement that the company remains "well-positioned for improving top and bottom-line performance in 2020 driven by our organic growth initiatives as well as strategic acquisitions." 

Green Thumb opens new dispensaries

Illinois-based Green Thumb Industries is on an expansion spree this year -- and why not? Its home state of Illinois is seeing dazzling marijuana sales since it made recreational cannabis legal in January. Sales were strong in April, the first full month of lockdown, at $37.2 million. By May, they'd reached $44.3 million in May. And June turned out to be a record-breaking month, with $47.6 million in legal cannabis sales in Illinois.

The strong demand in its home state is probably what's driving Green Thumb's confidence to expand. It opened its eighth store in the state, Rise Niles, at the end of May. In June, it opened two new medical cannabis stores in Pennsylvania -- Rise Chambersburg and Rise Duncansville

The end of June marked the opening of Green Thumb's fifth cannabis store in the Las Vegas area, Essence South Durango in Las Vegas. It still has licenses to open six more retail stores in Nevada.

With the South Durango location, Green Thumb now has a market presence of 48 stores in 12 U.S. markets, and it has licenses for 96 retail locations in total. Management reported 268% revenue growth year over year, to $102.6 million, and EBITDA of $25.5 million in the first quarter.

Canadian peers Aurora Cannabis and Canopy Growth are yet to report positive EBITDA. So far in July, Aurora Cannabis' stock hasn't seen much change. Canopy Growth and Green Thumb are up 2.1% and 1%, respectively, while Cresco Labs is down 2.9%. Comparatively, the market as tracked by the SPDR S&P 500 ETF is up 1.7%.

Cannabis companies' stock prices in July

Image source: YCharts. Data as of July 7, 2020.

Still a lot more to come!

Planning expansion may seem a bold move during a crisis, when many companies are struggling to stay afloat. But both Curaleaf and Green Thumb are in that position to take this risk and go big. Their balance sheets are strong and revenue and profits continue to expand at both companies, which doesn't give them much to worry about. Green Thumb ended its first quarter with cash and cash equivalents of $71.5 million, while Curaleaf ended its first quarter with $176.4 million on the balance sheet.

COVID-19 seems to have had little effect on these two companies, and they are all set to capture the U.S. markets going forward. More states ramping up to legalize marijuana, and hopes of federal legalization by 2022 on the cards, could allow them to expand more.

In my opinion, these two marijuana stocks can give tough competition to their popular Canadian peers, and are definitely companies to watch out for.