- CNBC's Jim Cramer shares his outlook for the year ahead in the budding cannabis industry.
- The "Mad Money" host expects more states to legalize, big pot companies to buy up smaller competitors, branding to blow up and more.
- The bottom line? Investors should put some high-quality cannabis stocks on their shopping lists.
After a monumental 2018 for cannabis — with Canada passing full legalization, the first pot company going public on the U.S. stock market and the substance becoming even more mainstream — CNBC's Jim Cramer is now looking ahead.
"I still think that legalized weed is one of the great growth stories of our era," he said Monday. "So, for those of you who want to speculate on the bull market for bud — hopefully at lower levels than where we are right now — I've got five predictions for the future of the marijuana industry."
It may sound obvious, but the "Mad Money" host expects another round of U.S. cannabis legalization in 2019.
"Nearly every time this gets put up for vote, legalization wins," he said, noting the recent victory in Michigan and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's newfound intention to legalize recreational use of the substance.
However, even if every state legalizes, cannabis would still remain illegal under federal law, he noted. But President Donald Trump's Attorney General nominee, William Barr, has signaled that he won't go after cannabis companies in compliance with state laws.
By extension, more lawmakers could jump on board, Cramer said: "I think Congress will be more willing to pass a law de-scheduling marijuana — did you know that, right now, marijuana is classified like cocaine or heroin? Isn't that kind of crazy? — as our politicians realize that this is actually a very popular, very mainstream position."
Cramer also expects to see "the rise of cannabidiol," a non-psychoactive cannabis compound more commonly known as CBD that has been found to have medical benefits.
This prediction has ties to the 2018 Farm Bill. The $867 billion proposal included a provision legalizing the cultivation of industrial hemp — cannabis with low levels of the "high"-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, compound.
"That's going to give the CBD market a major boost," Cramer said, explaining that the possibilities for the hemp-derived CBD market are "enormous" given the medicinal benefits and limited psychoactive reactions.
"You can put it in food, you can put it in beverages, you can put it in skincare," he said. "Immediately after the farm bill passed, Canopy Growth, the best-of-breed player in the Canadian cannabis space, announced it would be entering the United States to play the CBD market. So expect to hear a lot more about CBD as 2019 goes on, because I believe this could be a massive opportunity."
While 2018 "felt like the Wild West for the pot stocks," 2019 might feel a little more like Wall Street, Cramer said.
Canopy and Cronos also have a lot of cash on hand thanks to their corporate investors — Constellation Brands and Altria Group, respectively — which "gives them a huge advantage over the competition," the "Mad Money" host said.
"How will these leaders establish themselves? In part, they'll do it by scooping up smaller players," he said. "Canopy already started going on a deal binge in November. I think that's going to continue through this year, too."
"I predict 2019 will be all about branding for the pot industry," Cramer said. "Or, as Mel Brooks put it in Spaceballs, 'merchandising, merchandising, merchandising.'"
But, as he sees it, it won't just be about the rise of brands. The "Mad Money" host actually expects the biggest brands in marijuana to become household names.
"I expect a massive marketing push from these cannabis companies as they go from building out their production and distribution infrastructure to fighting each other for market share," he said, adding that even industry leaders will have to start from scratch given the lack of brand loyalty.
"If lawmakers allow it, expect a lot of slick marketing campaigns, celebrity endorsements, and anything else that these companies can think of to grab your attention and build a name for themselves," Cramer said.
Lastly, Cramer expects "marijuana-adjacent" biotechnology companies like GW Pharmaceuticals and Corbus Pharmaceutical Holdings to start getting more credit from investors for their cannabis-influenced businesses.
"These are not pot companies. They are drug companies focused on developing artificial cannabinoids that mimic what cannabis does to your body," he explained. GW Pharmaceuticals develops cannabis-plant-derived treatments for diseases including epilepsy.
"Why do I see these stocks benefiting? Because as cannabis companies try to push clinical trials for medicinal marijuana, ... I think they're going to run into one big problem [with] dosing," Cramer said.
Because cannabis is a plant, there tends to be a lot of variability when it comes to THC and CBD levels in each batch. But GW and Corbus' treatments don't have that problem, he argued.
"As we get more and more data showing the efficacy of medicinal marijuana, I think more investors will embrace actual medicines that do the same thing as marijuana, but they do it more reliably," he said.
Even though all of these predictions sound rosy, Cramer warned investors against buying into cannabis stocks at Monday's levels.
"The cannabis cohort is red-hot right now — too hot for me, frankly, to recommend, at least at these levels, and I have been behind Canopy the whole way — but the next time the group pulls back, I want you to think about where this industry is headed," he said. "This is a huge growth business, so I want you to put Canopy and Cronos on your shopping list ... and wait patiently for the next sell-off because I need you to have a better entry point."