What happened

Ever since the vice presidential debate last week, marijuana stocks have been on a tear. From Thursday's open to Monday's close, shares of Green Thumb Industries (OTC:GTBIF) are up 15%, Aphria (NASDAQ:APHA) has gained 24%, and industry giant Canopy Growth (NASDAQ:CGC) has surged 26%.

Not so today.

Today, marijuana stocks are taking a bit of a breather, and tic-tac-toe, three in a row, these stocks are all declining, falling 4%, 2.9%, and 5.8%, respectively, as of 11 a.m. EDT.

Marijuana plants

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

So what's going on here? In the absence of any obviously bad news for the stocks in question -- no negative earnings preannouncements, no bad earnings reports, and not so much as a critical peep out of Wall Street analysts -- I suspect that what we're seeing here today is profit-taking, plain and simple. For some investors, the temptation of cashing in on a 15% profit in just three trading days may prove too great to resist.

That being said, there is one bit of actual marijuana news that may be playing an outsized part in today's cannabis sell-off. Specifically, in a report last night, Bank of America laid out the roadmap for the prospects of marijuana legalization -- and the growth of the marijuana industry -- going forward.

Now what

On the one hand, rising poll numbers for the Biden/Harris ticket, combined with Senator Kamala Harris' promise last week to "decriminalize marijuana, and ... expunge the records of those who have been convicted of marijuana" related crimes after the election, certainly sounds like good news for cannabis investors. On the other hand, though, in making its report, Bank of America listed several preparatory steps that will need to be accomplished first -- and with the cooperation of Congress -- before marijuana investors can harvest all the benefits of legalization.    

Among these:

  • Congress will need to pass the SAFE Banking Act, so that banks can feel comfortable extending loans to marijuana companies and handling cash that generated by the cannabis industry.
  • Congress will also need to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule 1 drug.
  • Expunging the records of people convicted of past cannabis crimes will require criminal justice reform.
  • In general, federal laws on all of the above must be rationalized with state and local laws that may conflict now or in the future.

Mind you, Bank of America prepared this list more as a roadmap of what comes next after legalization. But viewed from another perspective, this map may have reminded investors that legalization isn't quite as simple as it sounds. There's still a lot of legislative sausage that needs to be made before marijuana stocks can grow to their full potential.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.