Buying stock in innovative businesses is one of the great joys of investing. By throwing their money behind a company that's making headway in uncharted territory, investors are betting on progress while providing fuel for the journey in the form of capital. In this vein, some people might suspect that there's not a whole lot of new thinking going on in the marijuana industry -- after all, how much is there to innovate on when it comes to an herb? 

From my perspective, the cannabis industry is a hotbed of creative activity, assuming you know where to look. Let's take a look at a compelling pair of businesses that are rewarding their shareholders by tackling new areas where there isn't much competition.

A dispensary worker closely examines a cannabis sapling growing in a small container.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Canopy Growth Corporation

If you believe that people enjoy smoking cannabis, it isn't too much of a stretch to think that they'd enjoy drinking cannabis too. That's where Canopy Growth Corporation's (NASDAQ:CGC) industry-leading lineup of cannabis-infused beverages comes into play. It has nine such products in total, with four containing cannabidiol (CBD) and five with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). While such drinks only comprise 2% of the total net sales of cannabis in its home market of Canada, marijuana beverages as a category grew by 25% in the most recent quarter. And, the majority of the company's infused drink brands are priced at a premium, which likely means they can be manufactured with healthy margins. Canopy is well-positioned to capitalize on the growth of the segment, especially considering that it already controls 34% of the cannabis beverage market in Canada. 

Investors will be pleased to hear that the company's drinks are gaining traction. Its Quatreau CBD-infused soda launched last quarter, and it's already the leading brand of its type in Canada. Importantly, Quatreau is also on the market in the U.S., where it can be sold in states that haven't yet legalized adult-use marijuana products. If federal marijuana legalization does occur, Canopy will have a strong advantage, given that it is already penetrating the U.S. CBD beverage market with help from its distribution collaborator, Constellation Brands

While beverages aren't the only thing that will drive Canopy's growth over the next few years, management is highly optimistic. It predicts that net revenue will grow with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of up to 50% between now and 2024. Time will tell whether its beverage strategy will pay off for investors, but the early signs are positive. 

2. GW Pharmaceuticals

Cannabis may be popular because people find it fun, but it's important to remember that the plant provides serious medical benefits too. GW Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:GWPH) is a pioneer in using cannabinoid therapies to treat otherwise intractable conditions like childhood onset epilepsies. Its star drug, Epidiolex, is already a hit, netting the company $510 million in 2020, a mere year after its launch. Sales rose by more than 70% compared to 2019, and which could potentially accelerate. On April 20, GW got the go-ahead from regulators in the E.U. to commercialize the drug for tuberous sclerosis complex in patients older than age two. Eventually, it could be approved for treatment of resistant epilepsy in all ages worldwide.

But, that's not the company's only promising project. Among other things, GW is developing a therapy for spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis called Sativex, which is already approved outside of the U.S. The phase 3 clinical trials necessary to get approval in the country are ongoing. In the meantime, GW's orphan drug exclusivity for Epidiolex in the U.S. and E.U. means that competitors won't be able to steal any of its market share for the next seven years.

While the company isn't profitable yet, GW's epilepsy programs attracted Jazz Pharmaceuticals, which intends to acquire it for $7.2 billion in cash and stock sometime in the second quarter of this year. Aside from equipping GW with new resources to pursue its cannabinoid pipeline, it'll also provide new opportunities to innovate in the future. Given what GW has accomplished so far for epilepsy patients with no other options, it's hard not to find that tremendously exciting.

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.