3 Best Marijuana Stocks of 2018 So Far -- Are They Buys Now?

You might have thought that 2018 would have been a fantastic year for most marijuana stocks. Canada is on course to open its big recreational marijuana market in October. Global demand for medical marijuana is increasing. But the reality is that most marijuana stocks aren't performing nearly as well so far this year as they did at this point in 2017.

However, there have been some winning marijuana stocks at the halfway market through 2018. Shares of MariMed (NASDAQOTH: MRMD), iAnthus Capital Holdings (NASDAQOTH: ITHUF), and Canopy Growth Corporation (NYSE: CGC) have soared. These three are the best marijuana stocks of 2018 so far for companies with current market caps of at least $200 million and that have a significant focus on the cannabis industry.

How have MariMed, iAnthus, and Canopy Growth emerged as the top year-to-date performers? And are these hot marijuana stocks smart picks now? Here's what you need to know.

1. MariMed

MariMed is a leading professional management company serving the emerging cannabis market. The company also markets cannabis products, including Nature's Heritage cannabis and cannabis-infused edibles Kalm Corn microwaveable popcorn and Betty's Eddies fruit chews.

So far in 2018, MariMed stock has skyrocketed more than 240%. By the end of Q1, MariMed's share price had jumped over 60%. But the big gains came after the company reported its Q1 results in mid-May. MariMed announced revenue of a little over $2 million -- an 81% year-over-year jump.

Investors were likely expecting an even bigger boost for MariMed with growth in medical cannabis markets in Massachusetts and Maryland. The company began operations in its Maryland cultivation and production facility in Q1. MariMed is building a new 68,000 square foot cannabis facility in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

2. iAnthus Capital Holdings

iAnthus Capital Holdings owns and operates eight cannabis cultivation facilities and 46 dispensaries in four U.S. states: Florida, New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont. The company also strategic partnerships with cannabis businesses operating in Colorado and New Mexico.

Shares of iAnthus have jumped more than 150% so far this year. The stock surged in mid-January following the company's acquisition of the medical marijuana business owned by GrowHealthy Holdings. This deal allowed iAnthus to expand in a significant way into the Florida market. Over the next couple of months, though, the stock gave up most of those gains. However, iAnthus has been on a roll since early April, helped in part by the close of its full acquisition of Massachusetts-based Pilgrim Rock and a $50 million investment by Gotham Green Partners.

Like MariMed, iAnthus stands to benefit from growth in the cannabis market in Massachusetts. But Florida and New York could be even more important to the company's future. iAnthus currently claims one of only 13 cannabis licenses in Florida and one of 10 licenses in New York.

3. Canopy Growth

Only one Canadian marijuana stock ranked in the top three best performers for the first half of 2018 -- Canopy Growth. The company is the largest marijuana grower in Canada and stands as the biggest marijuana stock in the world based on market cap.

Canopy Growth stock is up nearly 24% year to date. For the first four months of 2018, the marijuana grower's share price fluctuated up and down. But beginning in May, Canopy's share price has taken off. The combination of becoming the first marijuana stock to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange and anticipation of the legalization of recreational marijuana in Canada proved to be tremendous catalysts for Canopy.

Its production capacity and supply agreements with multiple provinces should make Canopy one of the biggest winners in the Canadian recreational marijuana market. However, the greatest opportunities for the company are in the global medical marijuana markets and in selling cannabis-infused products. Canopy is working with large alcoholic beverage maker Constellation Brands, which bought a 9.9% stake in Canopy last year, to develop cannabis-infused drinks.

Are they buys now?

Many investors probably won't be attracted to any of these three marijuana stocks. MariMed has a market cap of around $490 million, with sales of only $7 million over the last 12 months. iAnthus' market cap stands at roughly $340 million, with trailing-12-month sales of only $2.6 million. Canopy Growth claims a market cap of $6 billion, with sales over the last 12 months of a little over $52 million. In short, these stocks' valuations are beyond nose-bleed levels.

MariMed and iAnthus have strong growth prospects in the U.S. market. The problem for investors, however, is that tremendous growth is already baked into the prices of both stocks. That's also the case with Canopy Growth.

But Canopy's relationship with Constellation Brands could give the company a distinct advantage. BDS Analytics and Arcview Research think the annual global cannabis market could reach $57 billion over the next 10 years. Canopy Growth should be in a position to capture a nice share of that market. The stock is certainly risky, but I think that aggressive investors with a long-term perspective could still profit handsomely with Canopy.

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Keith Speights has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.