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A cannabis plant is shown in southwest Quebec.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Investors sent shares of cannabis companies with U.S. exposure tumbling on Thursday after learning that Canada's only clearinghouse for equities is considering a move that could disrupt trading of those stocks.

The potential ban, which was reported by The Globe and Mail, is being contemplated by Canadian Depository for Securities Ltd. (CDS). As a subsidiary of TMX Group Ltd., CDS operates key back-office functions that ensure when investors trade stocks, the cash and securities wind up in the right hands. If CDS prohibits these cannabis stocks from being cleared and settled, it would become virtually impossible to trade these shares.

Although Canadian exchanges have been more willing to list these stocks, in part due to this country's more liberal marijuana laws, there are lingering concerns at TMX about the legal risks for cannabis companies with U.S. operations. While marijuana is legal in some form in more than two dozen states, it remains illegal under federal law. That's created a dilemma for CDS and TMX.

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Read more: Stock-trading policy change looms over cannabis industry

Aphria Inc., the Leamington, Ont.-based company with cannabis assets in Arizona and Florida, saw its shares fall 6 per cent on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

On the Canadian Securities Exchange, which has become the go-to market for pot listings, many of the 10 cannabis companies with U.S. assets the exchange identified as being at risk if such a ban was adopted also saw their share prices decline.

Nutritional High International Inc. dropped 8 per cent. Vodis Pharmaceuticals Inc. stumbled 7 per cent, while both iAnthus Capital Holdings Inc. and Golden Leaf Holdings Ltd. declined 6 per cent.

Players in the cannabis sector said they were fielding calls from investors and other stakeholders.

"I received no less than 100 messages and calls over the last 12 hours from people asking, 'What's does this mean?'" said Brayden Sutton of Sutton Ventures Ltd., a long-time consultant in the sector. "Lots of waves out there, for sure. And there has been for some time. Lawyers have advised me that the consequences would be far too vast and affect too many shareholders for a change like this to be made."

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