(Adds CEO, analyst quote; adds shares)
Oct 30 (Reuters) - Constellation Brands Inc has bought a nearly 10 percent stake in Canadian cannabis maker Canopy Growth Corp for about C$245 million ($191 million), the first major wine, beer and spirits producer to invest in legal cannabis.
The move by the maker of Corona beer and Svedka vodka comes as Canada and a growing number of U.S. states move to legalise marijuana for recreational use, raising questionmarks over its illegal status at the U.S. Federal level.
Constellation shares rose as much as 1 percent in premarket trading in response.
"Were obviously trying to get first-mover advantage," Constellation Chief Executive Rob Sands told the Wall Street Journal.
He expected the cannabis industry to be legalized nationwide in the United States in coming years.
"We think that its highly likely, given whats happened at the state level, Sands said.
Eight states, including California and Nevada, have legalized marijuana for recreational use. At least 22 other states have legalized the plant for medicinal use.
A number of drug companies have products that are cannabis derivatives and an index of Canadian marijuana stocks calculated by research house Canaccord Genuity rose 36 percent in the month to Oct. 11.
But major firms in other sectors have kept their distance, worried by the connotations of involvement with a banned substance.
Constellation said it had no immediate plans to sell cannabis products in the U.S. or any other market unless it was legally permissible to do so at both a state and Federal level.
Eight Capital analyst Daniel Pearlstein said the move validated the cannabis industry as both a threat and opportunity for larger established companies in industries including alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceuticals.
"This move is a complete game changer, not only for Canopy, but also for the entire industry," he said.
Analysts said a more immediate option for Constellation could be to develop non-alcoholic cannabis-infused beverages for the Canadian cannabis market, which consultants estimate could be worth around $5 billion to $10 billion.
The deal also comes ahead of the widely anticipated move by Canada to legalize cannabis for recreational use nationwide by July 2018. The following year, edible and drinkable products are expected to become legal.
Canopy Growth is the biggest licensed producer of medical marijuana in Canada and is traded on the Toronto Stock exchange with a market capitalization of C$2.2 billion.
Constellation said the deal also gives it the option to purchase an additional ownership interest in Canopy in the future.
($1 = 1.2823 Canadian dollars) (Additional reporting by Siddharth Cavale in Bengaluru; editing by Patrick Graham)