The stock market's advance slowed down on Thursday, but it didn't stop entirely, and that was enough to make most market participants satisfied with the outcome of the trading session. The same general themes that we've seen lead the markets higher replayed themselves today, with hopes for better times ahead. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI -0.17%), S&P 500 (^GSPC 0.23%), and Nasdaq Composite were up around 0.5% to 1%.

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Data source: Yahoo! Finance.

It's been a while since marijuana stocks were in their heyday. Yet the sector got a nice bump on Thursday, and some investors seem to have new hope that a big change in the industry could finally come in the not-too-distant future.

A big move higher for pot stocks

Stocks across the cannabis sector moved higher, and the best-known cannabis producers got especially nice gains. Tilray (TLRY) led the group upward with an 18% advance. Canopy Growth (CGC -1.71%) followed with a 14% rise. Aurora Cannabis (ACB -2.48%) picked up 11%, while Cronos Group (CRON -1.60%) and Aphria (APHA) each posted a 10% gain.

Hand holding a marijuana leaf, with lots of cannabis plants behind.

Image source: Getty Images.

The move higher in marijuana came in the aftermath of the U.S. vice presidential debate on Wednesday evening. In explaining the Democratic platform, Sen. Kamala Harris said that a Biden-Harris administration would decriminalize marijuana possession and seek to expunge the criminal records of those convicted of marijuana-related crimes.

That's something U.S. marijuana investors have been hoping to see for a long time. Currently, marijuana remains illegal at the national level, although federal authorities have generally avoided seeking to prosecute people in states that have approved marijuana for medicinal or recreational use.

A more affirmative declaration that pot use would no longer be a federal crime would have dramatic consequences. Perhaps most importantly, U.S. companies in the cannabis business would get greater access to capital markets, as stock exchanges have been reluctant to let domestic corporations list shares due to the criminal laws on the books.

One size doesn't fit all

Just about the whole cannabis industry moved higher in lockstep on Thursday. But that doesn't mean that there won't be winners and losers regardless of what happens to U.S. law at the federal level.

Many marijuana companies have struggled amid the coronavirus pandemic as they try to adapt to a much different operating environment. Aurora Cannabis, for instance, is still spending money on expenses at such a rapid pace that analysts following the stock worry that it might have little chance at profitability within the next three years. That's a much longer wait than most cannabis investors were expecting to have to endure.

Some stocks, however, have done well. Innovative Industrial Properties (IIPR -0.27%), for instance, has seen its cannabis-related real estate business thrive, and shares have moved higher even as most cannabis cultivation companies sagged.

Even among cultivators, there are some better-run companies. Trulieve Cannabis (TCNNF -6.41%) has produced amazing share-price gains, leaving many of its peers in the dust. Trulieve's Florida-centered business model has been a blockbuster. It's also taking its success to other states.

Marijuana stocks have given investors a big roller-coaster ride in recent years, and it hasn't all been fun. Today at least, though, there's hope that things will get better for the cannabis industry.