By April Joyner
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Shares of cannabis companies rose on Wednesday as results from the previous day’s U.S. elections pointed to more favorable political conditions for the cannabis industry.
Trading volume for the stocks was also brisk. Volume for shares of Tilray, whose volatility has served as a bellwether of investor sentiment toward the cannabis industry, was more than four times its 10-day moving average.
Cannabis shares initially rose upon the passage of ballot initiatives in several states approving marijuana use. Michigan became the 10th state to approve recreational use of marijuana, while Missouri and Utah passed measures to legalize medical use of the drug. A measure to approve recreational marijuana use in North Dakota failed, however. The drug remains illegal under U.S. federal law.
“There’s a number of major steps to go through for the industry to develop the potential that is there,” said Tom Plumb, portfolio manager at Wisconsin Capital Management in Madison, whose holdings include Canopy Growth. “It’s going to be in the best interest of government to basically get handles on this industry.”
The stocks added to their gains, with Tilray shares hitting a session high, after reports that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was fired. Sessions, an opponent of marijuana’s legalization, had given prosecutors a greenlight to aggressively enforce federal laws against the drug in states where it had been decriminalized.
Despite the stocks’ rally, Sessions’ departure likely has little impact on the cannabis industry, said Jordan Waldrep, senior portfolio manager at USA Mutuals in Dallas, whose holdings include Canopy Growth, Aurora Cannabis and Cronos Group.
Nonetheless, Waldrep said, the passage of state initiatives and general voter sentiment indicate growing momentum for the cannabis industry.
“It’s showing us the trend of voter opinion,” he said. “There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle on this one.”
Sentiment is turning in marijuana’s favor internationally. Mexico’s next interior minister, Senator Olga Sanchez, told Reuters that a bill would be presented this week that would permit companies to grow and commercialize marijuana.
Two senators, Colorado Republican Cory Gardner and Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren, have sponsored a bill that would leave determining the legal status of marijuana to states, thereby shielding cannabis companies from federal prosecution.
Also, two narrower bills regarding marijuana could be viable, especially as the Democratic Party takes control of the House of Representatives, according to analysts at Cowen & Co. The Safe Act would permit banks to provide services to cannabis companies in compliance with state law. The Veterans Equal Access Act would allow doctors in the Department of Veterans Affairs to authorize medical cannabis for patients in states where such use is legal.
“Broadly speaking, this election is less transformative for cannabis than the 2016 election by virtue of the fact that there were fewer ballots at the state level,” said Vivien Azer, an analyst at Cowen. “But the expectations are higher, federally speaking, as it relates to the makeup of Congress.”
(Reporting by April Joyner; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)