When you are looking at top multi-state cannabis operators to invest in, it's impossible to avoid including Curaleaf Holdings (OTC:CURLF) and Trulieve Cannabis (OTC:TCNNF) in any serious analysis. Both stocks are dominating the U.S. pot market right now and have more than doubled in value over the past year, soundly outperforming the Horizons Marijuana Life Sciences ETF, which is up just 38% over the same period.

But moving forward, predicting which one of these companies will be the better buy may not be so easy. Trulieve is branching out of Florida where it has dominated and it still has a lot to prove outside of its home market. Curaleaf, meanwhile, has a much wider footprint, but its bottom line isn't as impressive. Which pot stock should you choose?

A farmer holding a tablet in a hemp field.

Image source: Getty Images.

The case for Curaleaf

If you are a growth investor, it's hard not to like Curaleaf's rapidly expanding business. The company is in 23 states, has more than 100 dispensaries, and recently partnered with Rolling Stone to help add to the popularity of its Select brand. In May, it also announced it would be acquiring Colorado-based cannabis company Los Suenos to expand its presence in that state. I wouldn't be surprised if there are more deals to come from Curaleaf.

But even if Curaleaf does nothing, it is already at a $1 billion run rate in revenue, posting sales of $260 million during the first three months of 2021. And on that revenue it recorded an adjusted EBITDA profit of $63 million. Curaleaf isn't stopping, though. It has raised $300 million to penetrate new markets, including states like New York and New Jersey, which recently legalized marijuana for recreational use.

The company is also looking beyond the U.S. Last month, Curaleaf announced that it was launching its first medical marijuana products in Germany -- the largest market in Europe. Curaleaf established its international business earlier in the year when it acquired Emmac Life Sciences, a European-based cannabis operator. And almost immediately, the company found an institutional investor willing to take a 31.5% stake in the business.

With so many avenues for growth, it's easy to see why Curaleaf has a bright future ahead.

The case for Trulieve

Trulieve hasn't been nearly as aggressive in expanding as Curaleaf has, although that may not necessarily be a bad thing. Last week, it announced the launch of its 90th dispensary. And the bulk of those are in Florida. Data from the Office of Medical Marijuana Use in Florida shows that for the week ended June 18, it had 85 of the 346 dispensing locations in the state -- representing a quarter of all dispensaries and more than double the next company (Curaleaf has 37 locations).

The near future will see a change in the company's geographical diversification, as Trulieve has been busy wheeling and dealing. Its most notable recent deal is the acquisition of Harvest Health & Recreation, a cannabis company that, like Trulieve, has a strong presence in its home market of Arizona. Having a solid one-two punch of Arizona and Florida could provide Trulieve with an easy way to penetrate another market and also put it on track to hit $1 billion in revenue. The acquisition could work well as both companies are profitable with Trulieve reporting an adjusted EBITDA profit of $91 million for the period ended March 31, while Harvest Health reported a profit of $27 million over the same timeframe.

But those aren't all the growth opportunities ahead for Trulieve. It recently closed on its acquisition of West Virginia-based Solevo Wellness this month. It also has a presence in Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania.

Which stock is better?

In terms of valuation, Trulieve is the cheaper stock to buy when comparing forward price-to-sales multiples:

CURLF PS Ratio (Forward) Chart

CURLF PS Ratio (Forward) data by YCharts

However, given the larger presence that Curaleaf has and the more plentiful opportunities it has ahead, I wouldn't be surprised to see that gap shrink in the near future. The coming year is going to be a big test for Trulieve to see how much growth it can attain in markets where it doesn't have such a strong footprint. For Trulieve to be a top buy in the industry, it needs to show investors that it can replicate the success it has enjoyed in Florida in other states.

Although both stocks look like terrific buys, I give the edge to Curaleaf for its ability to manage such impressive growth without incurring significant losses. And if it can keep that up and tap into some promising markets like New York and New Jersey, there won't be any stopping the stock from what could be sky-high returns in the near future.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.