The cannabis industry is evolving as more states legalize marijuana and more types of products become available. But predicting exactly in which direction it will go can be a challenge. While many investors and cannabis executives hope that federal legalization is inevitable, there's no telling if and when it might happen.
There are, of course, other projections to consider as well, such as whether there will be more consolidation and which types of products might have the most market share. Curaleaf Holdings (CURLF -10.07%) Executive Chairman Boris Jordan offered some predictions on those issues at a recent conference.
1. Cannabis drinks to make up half of the market?
Beverages aren't a popular subset of the cannabis market right now. Analysts from Fortune Business Insights estimate that globally this segment was only worth $915 million last year, and Curaleaf's revenue last year was more than that at $1.2 billion.
However, analysts expect that the beverage market will expand substantially at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 54% to 2028, when it will be worth more than $19 billion. By then, they estimate the entire industry could be worth just under $198 billion, suggesting that beverages will make up close to 10% of the market.
But at a recent Benzinga conference, Jordan predicted that in five to 10 years, beverages will account for 50% of the entire industry. It's a bold prediction that would suggest a much faster growth rate than the overall market. Beer maker Constellation Brands, known for popular brands such as Corona and Modelo, invested $4 billion in Canadian pot producer Canopy Growth in 2018. Anheuser-Busch InBev, which makes Budweiser, entered into a partnership with cannabis company Tilray Brands also in 2018, but they ultimately ended that agreement earlier this year.
Despite some big names showing interest in cannabis already, the beverages segment is still a fairly small part of the roughly $30 billion pot market right now. For that reason, I wouldn't suggest investors rush out to invest in companies that are making cannabis-infused beverages just yet, as it could prove to be more of a niche than what Jordan is expecting it to be.
2. Tobacco companies will be eager to jump in
Jordan suggested another industry may make an even bigger move into cannabis, and that's big tobacco. "The minute that marijuana gets rescheduled, tobacco companies will be known as cannabis companies." Jordan is referring to marijuana still being a Schedule I substance and being federally banned. Rescheduling marijuana would pave the way for other industries to do business with cannabis and would likely be part of broader legislation to legalize the substance.
Tobacco companies have already shown an interest in the cannabis industry. Marlboro maker Altria Group invested $1.8 billion in cannabis producer Cronos Group nearly four years ago. Diversifying into cannabis products is one way the company can get into a new growth opportunity, especially since its sales haven't risen much in recent years.
This looks to be a more probable scenario than Jordan's first prediction, simply because acquiring a cannabis company may not cost all that much for a business like Altria, which generated more than $8 billion in free cash flow over the trailing 12 months -- that's more than the combined market caps of Tilray, Cronos, and Canopy Growth.
Investors should consider exposure to cannabis
Whether Jordan's predictions come true or not, the key takeaway from all this is that there is significant potential in the industry. Whether it's beverage companies, tobacco companies, or perhaps even pharmaceutical companies, there will be businesses looking to tap into this market's potential.
There aren't many opportunities out there where analysts are projecting 50% growth rates -- that alone should attract both companies looking to expand their top lines and investors who want to cash in on growth investments.
Although cannabis stocks are beaten up right now, investing in Curaleaf or other licensed producers with strong fundamentals can be a good way for investors to position themselves for some great growth opportunities down the road. There's no telling when marijuana legalization may take place in the U.S., but if it does happen, there will likely be a lot more bullishness behind the industry.