The marijuana industry composite, the AdvisorShares Pure U.S. Cannabis ETF, is down by more than 50% this year so far. Cannabis stock investors are on the lookout for better times, not to mention the next big stock to invest in.

Given that marijuana legalization is far from guaranteed in the near term, investing in the largest and most profitable pure-play companies might not be the most successful strategy. Let's take a look at a trio of the best marijuana stocks to buy this December so that you'll have a few ideas about where to place your bets to succeed over the next few years.

1. 22nd Century Group

22nd Century Group (XXII -6.01%) isn't a traditional marijuana company. It makes money by developing genetically engineered strains of cannabis, tobacco, and hops. This way, growers can maximize the growth rate and hardiness of their plants beyond what they'd be able to accomplish with lower-tech husbandry methods.

Furthermore, cannabis cultivators can work with the company to develop plant lines with customized expression levels of economically relevant cannabinoids. As a result, they also get higher yields of the chemicals they need to make extracts, edibles, and other marijuana products. 

Business is booming, in part due to 22nd Century's genetically engineered tobacco segment. Since December 2021, this segment has produced the only Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized low-nicotine cigarette product that has proven to help people smoke less. In Q3, its revenue skyrocketed by 148% year over year, reaching $19.4 million. And the early success of the company's low-nicotine cigarettes is key to why it's worth buying its shares.

In 2023, 22nd Century Group will launch its cigarettes in 18 states and distribute them via Circle K convenience stores. Right now, it's scaling up low-nicotine tobacco production by 25%. Even if its rapid revenue growth isn't due to its cannabis services, the company is safer in the long term due to its diversification. As a result, it's likely to make its investors better off over time. 

2. Innovative Industrial Properties

Innovative Industrial Properties (IIPR -2.74%) is another cannabis stock that isn't focused on selling cannabis, but rather on renting out cannabis cultivation real estate to businesses. The twist is that it also helps marijuana businesses raise capital. 

The company is a real estate investment trust (REIT) that buys out cultivation floor space, thereby granting the former owners a wad of money. Then it rents the property right back to the same people, thereby creating cash flow for itself, typically for average lease terms between 15 and 20 years.

That allows those companies to get the capital they need to expand, while also ensuring that IIP gets a steady trickle of income. Its trailing 12-month (TTM) cash from operations is above $226.5 million and grew by 20% in the last year.

At the moment, the REIT's forward dividend yield is above 6%, which is quite lucrative. More importantly, over the last three years, the company hiked its dividend by 80%, with additional increases almost certainly on the way. In the first nine months of this year, it invested in nine new properties, which bodes well for next year.

In a nutshell, this stock is worth buying now because the cannabis industry will need landlords like IIP more and more as it expands over time in the U.S. Even if the industry hits a rough patch and several of its tenants default, in the long term, the company holds valuable property that it will most likely be able to rent out. As long as its tenants don't default en masse, Innovative Industrial Properties should be able to keep buying and leasing out new properties to bolster its earnings and maintain the pace of its revenue hikes. 

3. Trulieve Cannabis

Trulieve Cannabis (TCNNF -8.77%) has a simple business model where it sells recreational and medicinal marijuana to consumers and businesses. It has a strong presence in Florida, where 120 of its 177 stores are located, and also has hubs in the Northeast and Southwest of the U.S.

Building up that retail footprint is part of why over the last three years, the company's quarterly sales grew by 277.4%. Management expects to make as much as $1.3 billion in revenue this year and is planning to continue opening new dispensaries, while also trimming unprofitable ones for the foreseeable future.

While Trulieve isn't profitable, it has been in the past, and there's reason to believe it will be profitable once more -- and soon. It recently closed its money-losing wholesale operations in Nevada and shuttered excessive or redundant cultivation facilities in Florida and California. At the same time, from 2023 onward, it won't need to invest as much into preparing its regional supply chains for long-term growth, which cost $38 million in Q3 alone, making up a large portion of its quarterly net loss of ​​$115 million. 

There's a solid chance Trulieve will return to profitable growth in the middle or toward the end of next year. At that point, it'll likely be one of the very few multi-state operators (MSOs) with both a massive retail footprint and the ability to keep growing without burning cash. That's a compelling reason to buy its stock.