So it's a done deal: after months, if not years, of promise and hope, New York has legalized recreational marijuana (it did so with medical pot in 2014). Three noted cannabis companies are already operating in the Empire State -- Curaleaf Holdings (OTC:CURLF), Cresco Labs (OTC:CRLBF), and Columbia Care (OTC:CCHWF). Of the trio, two are really worth watching as New York flips the adult-use switch.

In this segment from Motley Fool Live recorded on May 21, veteran Fool contributor Eric Volkman zeroes in on the two in a discussion with healthcare and cannabis bureau chief Corinne Cardina. 

Corinne Cardina: So are there any pot stocks that already have a footprint in New York from the medical program, and that might have a first-mover advantage?

Eric Volkman: Yeah, there are several. There's a couple of candidates.

Basically, we're looking at three companies. You've got Curaleaf Holdings, which is a multi-state operator (MSO) that, as the term implies, is active in a bunch of states; basically, it's the biggest MSO in America. Cresco Labs, which is an ambitious company out of Illinois, and then we have Columbia Care, which I consider to be kind of  a dark horse. They have to be in the mix, though, because they are actually based in New York City unlike the other two. Curaleaf is based in Massachusetts.

Curaleaf and Cresco have four dispensaries apiece. As you say because at the moment or prior to this legalization, New York was purely a medical marijuana market. Even now those dispensaries are just selling medical product -- you can't buy recreational there. The first two companies that I mentioned, Curaleaf and Cresco, they have a leg up because of that.

Out of the two, if we are just talking of pure presence in New York right now, the edge has to go to Curaleaf because they have a grow facility. They have a place from which they can natively supply their [New York] dispensaries. But a lot can change, and especially for waiting like a year for the switch to be flipped on the actual pot market, other companies can jump in and I'm sure they will.

Like, for example, Cresco. They have a fairly hot rivalry with another Illinois vertically integrated weed company called Green Thumb Industries. They might be casting a hungry eye on New York too. Right now, though, if you are going to take any company with a head start, Curaleaf and Cresco are probably the two to watch.

Columbia Care, I don't think so much even though they have four dispensaries in the state, like the other two companies. To me, they seem more interested in states outside New York. Recently they signed a $240 million deal for a company called Green Leaf Medical. [So] they're like a Mid-Atlantic company. They're active in Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.

I think their focus is elsewhere. I mean, I haven't heard the company pronounce too much on their ambitions, but it seems like they might be ceding the New York market.

So at the end of the day, Curaleaf and Cresco probably are the two at this early stage I would keep an eye on.

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.