Former TV news anchor Dan Rather has referred to certain political races in the past as hotter than "a Times Square Rolex," "the devil's anvil," and "a Laredo parking lot." His folksy descriptions could just as readily apply to the U.S. cannabis market. No matter how you look at it, pot is hot.

Some investors have jumped on the bandwagon of marijuana stocks with less-than-solid underlying businesses. The smarter move, though, is to go with the stocks of well-run companies with strong growth prospects. Here are three top cannabis stocks to buy in February that check off those boxes.  

Three cannabis leaves

Image source: Getty Images

1. Cresco Labs

I recently wrote that Cresco Labs (OTC:CRLBF) was a growth stock that could realistically double in 2021. When I made that prediction, the stock was up nearly 20% year to date. Now, Cresco's shares are up over 60% for the year. I might not have been optimistic enough.

Cresco's current markets continue to grow. The company is a leading cannabis wholesaler in California. Cresco is a top retailer in its home state of Illinois, and it has operations in eight other states. 

However, Cresco is also expanding into new markets. Its acquisition of Bluma Wellness gives the company a foothold in the fast-growing Florida medical cannabis market. Cresco recently won a license to sell recreational marijuana in Arizona, a state where it already operated medical cannabis dispensaries.

Even with its big gains this year, Cresco's market cap lags far behind several of its peers that generate similar sales. My view is that the stock will at least double this year. It could rise a lot more than that if marijuana is decriminalized at the federal level.

2. GrowGeneration

GrowGeneration (NASDAQ:GRWG) ranked as the best-performing cannabis stock in 2020, with a gain of 881%. Its shares are still soaring this year, jumping 43% year to date. Don't worry about being too late to the party, though: GrowGeneration has plenty of room to run.

GrowGeneration operates the largest chain of hydroponics and organic gardening retail stores, but still has only 46 stores out of around 1,000 total hydroponics stores in the U.S.  As of now, GrowGeneration's goal is to own 55 stores by the end of 2021. It expects to deliver revenue growth this year of at least 75%. 

GrowGeneration has two clear paths to generate strong long-term growth, in my view. One is to continue its consolidation of the fragmented retail hydroponics market. Another is to move into additional states that have recently legalized either medical or recreational cannabis or are likely to soon do so.

The company could get help from Uncle Sam on the latter path to growth. With Democrats in control of the U.S. Congress and President Joe Biden in the White House, significant federal cannabis reform appears likely. That could pave the way for even more states to legalize cannabis.

3. Innovative Industrial Properties

If you're more of a conservative investor, Innovative Industrial Properties (NYSE:IIPR) gives you an attractive way to profit from the cannabis boom. The company is the leading real estate investment trust (REIT) focused on the U.S. medical cannabis market.

Like most REITs, IIP buys properties and then leases those properties out to generate steady revenue. The key difference between IIP and most REITs is that its tenants are medical cannabis operators. The company currently owns 67 properties in 17 states with a weighted-average remaining lease term of around 16.7 years. 

IIP has been a big winner, with its shares soaring 141% in 2020 and jumping 17% so far this year. It's also a dividend investor's dream, offering a reliable and fast-growing dividend.

Could the potential reversal of federal laws limiting access to financial services for cannabis companies hurt IIP? Perhaps. The REIT might not be as appealing to cannabis operators if they could easily obtain bank loans.

However, I think the overall expansion of the U.S. cannabis market will be more than enough to offset any challenges. IIP shouldn't have any problems continuing to add new properties -- and deliver strong earnings and dividend growth in the process.

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.