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Medical marijuana stocks on a high as legislation could pave way for greater use

The medical marijuana industry has seen rapid growth as the prospects for further legalization improve and investors fund innovators looking to expand the use of cannabis, with the market expected to more than double in size to US$33.41 billion by 2022.

Former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, a long-time opponent of marijuana, recently joined the board of a cannabis company, New York-based Acreage Holdings. Boehner said in a tweet that he changed his stance on marijuana legalization as his "thinking on cannabis evolved." He is now asking the federal government to get out of the way of marijuana legalization, a TV news station in his home state of Ohio recently reported.

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In 1996, California became the first U.S. state to make marijuana legal for medical use, followed by Alaska, Oregon and Washington in 1998. To date, 29 states and Washington, D.C., have permitted the medical use of marijuana, with West Virginia being the latest state to legalize medical cannabis last year.

During the recent G-7 summit in Canada, U.S. President Donald Trump signaled he was willing to back the legalization of marijuana, saying he "probably will end up supporting" bipartisan legislation that would leave the decision on marijuana legalization up to individual states — a bill introduced by Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., National Public Radio reported.

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Canopy Growth Corp., a Smiths Falls, Ontario-based company listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, is the largest producer of medical marijuana with a market capitalization of over US$6 billion, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence. Canopy Growth recorded total revenue of US$55.7 million in the previous year.

Recent data show that the medical marijuana market is projected to expand further in the coming years. In 2016, the global medical cannabis market was valued at US$12.67 billion, with projections that its value would climb to US$33.41 billion by 2022 at a compound annual growth rate of 17.53%, FinancialBuzz.com said, citing a report by Oristep Consulting.

Meanwhile, technology research firm Technavio said the global medical marijuana market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 21% from 2018 through 2022, thanks to the increasing use of cannabis for medical purposes. The Americas have more than 52% of the market, the report noted.

GW Pharmaceuticals PLC is close to bringing to the market its marijuana-based drug Epidiolex — intended to treat seizures from two rare forms of epilepsy in children — after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee recommended the medicine's approval. The FDA has set June 27 as the final date for deciding on the Cambridge, England-based company's application.

Insys Therapeutics Inc. is also in the race to market an oral solution to treat infantile spasms using cannabidiol, one of the components of cannabis that does not have psychoactive effects. The U.S. company said the solution is also being tested as a treatment for Prader-Willi syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by insatiable appetite in children that often leads to obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The North American Marijuana Index reached its peak at the beginning of 2018 to 2,230.52, S&P Global Market Intelligence data showed.

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