As more and more states legalize marjiuana, federal legalization in the U.S. seems inevitable. Not only are more states passing legislation to permit recreational use, but a vast majority of Americans also support legalization. According to a recent survey, Pew Research found that 91% of people in the U.S. believe marijuana should be legal for either medical or recreational use, with 60% in favor of both. President Joe Biden is in favor of decriminalizing marijuana, while Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is ready to push ahead with full legalization efforts even if Biden isn't completely on board just yet.

When legalization happens, there are many Canadian cannabis producers that will be ready to expand their presence south of the border. Canopy Growth (CGC -1.71%), soon-to-be-joined Aphria (APHA) and Tilray (TLRY)Cronos (CRON -1.60%), and Aurora Cannabis (ACB -2.48%) could be some of the biggest winners if (or, when) the U.S. pot market opens up.

Stack of cash with marijuana leaves.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Canopy Growth

Canopy Growth has partnerships set up so that it can start working on expansion almost immediately after legalization takes place. One of the first things it would be able to do is close on its acquisition of Acreage Holdings. Although the two companies came to an agreement in 2019, the transaction is still pending. The multistate operator has a footprint in 13 states with 29 dispensaries that are up and running. In 2020, it reported sales of $114.5 million, which rose 55% year over year. With Acreage Holdings, Canopy Growth would be ready to rival big names like Curaleaf and Trulieve right off the bat.

Plus, the company is also working with investor Constellation Brands, which owns nearly 40% of the business, to develop cannabis beverages. Tapping into Constellation's distribution network, Canopy Growth will be poised to grab even more potential market share right out of the gate. And that is why this marijuana stock is at the top of this list -- it is easily the best positioned cannabis company in Canada to benefit from U.S. legalization.

2. Aphria and Tilray

The merger between Aphria and Tilray puts these two companies next on this list as together, they will have the next-best opportunities in the U.S. In November, Aphria announced the acquisition of SweetWater Brewing. And although the craft brewer does have the 420 brand, which suggests that it makes cannabis drinks, it actually uses hemp (which is legal in the U.S.) to emulate popular cannabis strains. Legalization would pave the way for the real deal. Tilray has partnered with Anheuser-Busch Inbev since 2018 on developing drinks for the Canadian pot market, and it will also have beverages that are ready to go.

Tilray has also been building out its position in other ways. Hemp plays a big part in its business, generating more than one-third of its revenue in 2020. In 2019, Tilray acquired Manitoba Harvest, a leading hemp business with products that are sold in thousands of retailers across the U.S. and Canada. Through its hemp operations, Tilray can leverage the existing relationships it has with retailers to potentially sell other cannabis products to them post-legalization.

3. Cronos

Cronos acquired cannabidiol (CBD) brand Lord Jones in 2019 from Redwood Holding Group. The company sells a variety of CBD-infused products, including oils and gummies. Last year, sales from the U.S. totaled $9.5 million and accounted for just 20% of its consolidated net revenue. But Cronos is definitely looking to change that. Earlier this year it partnered with actress Kristen Bell to launch a series of CBD products under its Happy Dance brand, which will be available at more than 550 Ulta Beauty locations. 

Like Canopy Growth, Cronos also benefits from having a partner that can accelerate its growth in the U.S. Tobacco giant Altria invested $1.8 billion into the cannabis company in 2018. With deep pockets and wide reach across the states, Altria can help Cronos break into more markets after legalization.

4. Aurora Cannabis

Aurora doesn't have a big partner it can lean on, but the company has been making moves to take advantage of opportunities in the U.S. In May 2020, it announced entry into the U.S. market through the acquisition of Reliva, which makes CBD products. The acquisition also brought on board CEO Miguel Martin, who was previously at the helm of Reliva and has 25 years of experience in consumer packaged goods. Reliva's products are in more than 20,000 retail locations and at the time of the acquisition, it claimed to be the "only CBD company in the three largest U.S. wholesale distributors."

Although Aurora doesn't specifically break out U.S.-related sales, it is safe to assume this transaction, which cost the company approximately $40 million worth of shares (potentially up to $45 million), isn't going to put the company into as promising a position as the other pot stocks on this list. Aurora closed on the transaction in May 2020, but even when including Reliva's results into its operations, it has struggled to generate meaningful growth. In its second-quarter earnings report, released on Feb. 11, its net revenue of 67.7 million Canadian dollars for the period ending Dec. 31, 2020 was flat from the previous period.

However, investors shouldn't count the company out. Once pot is legal in the U.S., that may open the door for other potential deals for Aurora. Although billionaire investor Nelson Peltz was unable to broker a transaction, more opportunities could arise once the prohibition of marijuana is over and it no longer deters companies in other industries from jumping into the cannabis sector.