New Jersey has opened the licensing application process that will lead to a doubling in the number of medical marijuana businesses serving the state, from the current six to 12.

Reflecting strong demand from entrepreneurs wanting to secure one of the six new licenses, more than 800 people attended a mandatory pre-application meeting on Thursday, according to New York Public Radio station WNYC.

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Meanwhile, a top lawmaker in New Jersey predicted that a bill to legalize recreational marijuana might be acted on as early as next month, NJ.com reported Thursday.

The state’s MMJ expansion, pushed by Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration, comes at a time when patient numbers are growing rapidly. The program now serves 28,000 patients, according to the state Department of Health website, up from about 16,000 at the end of 2017.

On its website, the health department indicated it could issue even more MMJ licenses given “the unprecedented expansion of the program.”

New Jersey has a vertically integrated structure in which dispensaries grow their own marijuana to sell. Stand-alone wholesale cultivation operations aren’t allowed.

The deadline for the MMJ applications is Aug. 31. The state expects to select the winning applicants by Nov. 1.

The Marijuana Business Factbook 2018 projects that New Jersey MMJ sales this year will total $30 million-$35 million, up from $20 million-$25 million in 2017.