Even though cannabis-sector stocks have dropped more than 50 percent since the March peak, the Benzinga 420 Marijuana Index is still up 244 percent YTD. The burst at the beginning of the year came after widespread media coverage of Colorado's recreational legalization, but along with NASDAQ, the MJ market has recently corrected.Heightened scrutiny by FINRA and the SEC (which has now suspended five cannabis-related stocks) has made the cannabis sector more volitile. With the big "420" celebration behind us, investors will be paying attention to several catalysts over the remainder of the year, including the implementation of Canada's new medical marijuana program, the roll-out of retail marijuana in Washington this summer, and the November elections, where Alaska (recreational) and Florida (medical) are both expected to legalize marijuana.Not all stocks in the sector move with the rest of the group, with performances varying. Investors have become wary of some names and enamored by others.With the market beginning to bounce from oversold conditions, let's take a look at some of the largest names in the sector...Despite the recent SEC suspension, Advanced Cannabis Solutions (OTC: CANN) is still trading up 589 percent in 2014. The company’s March halting appears to be the result of restricted shares being traded by a non-insider. Investors seem encouraged by the innocence of the company’s insider-holders, as well as their expansion into Canada.See also: 14 Cannabis Stocks To Watch In 2014CANN has a powerful business model that is based on leasing their facilities to cultivators, providing consulting and ancillary products to their clients, while supporting them with access to capital.CannaVest (OTC: CANV) has gained less than one percent in 2014 after giving up the massive gains from the beginning of the year. After a large insider trade, negative publicity from Forbes, and an earnings restatement, investor confidence has plummeted. The company's business model appears to be at risk, as the barriers to entry for hemp production seem likely to fall.Tranzbyte (OTC: ERBB) is trading up over 1800 percent this year, with investors focused on a marijuana based vending machine known as ZaZZZ. The pink-sheet company is yet to disclose that the first ZaZZZ customer is simply the result of a consulting contract with a related firm. Creative Edge Nutrition (OTC: FITX) has rallied over 1400 percent since the turn of the calendar. The company, which is in the process of building a large new growth facility in Canada, has also expanded through the acquisition of Hemp Technologies.FITX, which also trades on pink-sheets, expects to complete two years of audits by the end of April, which will allow them to up-list to a more respectable market.This move, as well as the recent addition of an independent Chairman to their board, seems to raise the company’s odds for success.See also: 1st Annual Cannabis Investor Conference In June 2014Shares of FusionPharm (OTC: FSPM) (which is also traded via pink-sheets) have increased almost 600 percent. The company (and investors) have benefit from cultivation expansion in Colorado and Canada. While the company’s fundamentals appear to be strong, investors should be wary of a large block of convertible preferred stock that was issued to the CEO and his brother. This preferred stock could boost the shares outstanding to 155mm.GW Pharma (NASDAQ: GWPH) is up 11 percent despite NASDAQ’s very weak bio-tech sector. The company’s shares dropped at the beginning of the year due to the the issue of additional shares at $36 in January.From there, the stock exloded up to almost $87, but has sharply corrected in the last month.Investors are excited about upcoming P3 trials for GWPH’s leading drug, Sativex.Along with that drug, there is potential for an anti-seizure medicine, Epidiolex, to obtain orphan status with the FDA (which would protect them from the emerging competition). GW Pharma appears to be one of the strongest plays in the sector.
This is part one of a two part series by Alan Brochstein of the 420 Investor.
Disclosure: The 420 Investor has positions in FITX, GWPH, MCIG, PHOT and TRTC in one or more model portfolios.