Cannabis investing's latest bet: A new marijuana ETF with the ticker YOLO

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You only live once, but when it comes to cannabis, your investing options are seemingly endless.

Case in point: Last week saw the debut of a new marijuana-themed exchange-traded fund called the AdvisorShares Pure Cannabis ETF, an actively managed fund with nearly $2.5 million assets under management. Trading under the ticker YOLO, the ETF is backed by BNY Mellon and holds shares of Canadian growers like Aurora Cannabis and Canopy Growth.

A few things about this particular fund set it apart from its 3-year-old counterpart, the ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF, ticker MJ. First, it’s actively managed, which means that it aims to outperform the broader cannabis space with the help of a professional money manager. Second, it’s bank-backed, which lends credibility.

“The previous fund here, MJ, had to kind of do a bit of an end-around” with its backers, Managing Director Dave Nadig told CNBC’s “ETF Edge” on Monday. “They sort of turned a Latin American real estate fund into a marijuana fund. … They had to go get Wedbush, a broker-dealer, to hold the assets. And that’s fine, but the difference is it’s not a bank. It’s not regulated like a bank, and a lot of institutional investors really care about these things.”

AdvisorShares got around those hurdles by putting together a preapproved list of holdings with BNY Mellon, Nadig said.

“Because it’s actively managed, obviously they need to know what’s OK and what’s not OK” to trade, he said. “So they’re working through their ‘OK’ list, and they’ve put together a portfolio which, when you look at it, looks like a pretty darn good pure-play cannabis ETF.”

Another important distinction is YOLO’s list of holdings, which includes 20 stocks involved either directly or tangentially in the marijuana trade. Nadig pointed out just how “pure” that looks in comparison to MJ, which invests in companies like gardening product maker Scotts Miracle-Gro and tobacco giant Philip Morris in the hopes they’ll get into the space.

“The new fund, YOLO, is really a pure play,” he said. “This is a case where active management may make sense. This is a fast-moving space. … Being able to move around the edges of the industry, I think, is going to be really important for success.”

Reggie Brown, senior managing director of Cantor Fitzgerald’s ETF Group, said the real success of these investments will come down to the politics of pot.

“With cannabis, it really comes down to regulatory outcomes,” Brown said in the same “ETF Edge” interview. “It depends on how the regulatory bodies look at it, and then how the banks can adopt to be custodians broadly. So, it seems like there’s a lot of demand in cannabis. It’s an emerging new area of commerce, and so I can only see the ETFs be covered by that.”

AdvisorShares’ Pure Cannabis ETF climbed by over 2% on Monday and has largely been trading in the $25 range. The ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF rose by 3% and is up almost 40% year to date.

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