As the state of Pennsylvania began accepting cannabiz applications this month, many are hoping the opening of a regulated state medical marijuana program will be the next bonanza that bolsters the state’s sagging economy. Braddock, Pennsylvania mayor, John Fetterman, for one is hoping the cannabis industry might replace some of the countless steel jobs that have left the state over the past few decades.

Despite complaints about the limited scope of the program from industry observers, entrepreneurs from across the country have already flooded in with ideas and applications from literally across the map. The state has been carved into six regions with two cultivation facilities apiece for each region and dispensaries distributed according population density.

Besides having clear police records, a lease or deed on an appropriately zoned location to operate from, and at least two million on hand for operating capital, applicants must file dozens of pages of background info for each application and cough up a nonrefundable $10,000 for grower applications and $5,000 for dispensaries.

Over 900 applicants are expected to get an application filed before the deadline which is Monday, March 20th, though only 12 cultivation permits and 27 dispensary licenses will be issued.

Sterling Crockett, AgriMed’s chairman, applicant in the southwest region — “We’ll be going into the process with a shovel-ready project. Our funding and financing is in place. We think we have the personnel … and I think we may have some advantages in our opportunities to bring community impact”

Penn Live’s Nick Malawskey even found Geoff Whaling, an applicant with the novel idea to build his cultivation facility in a subterranean Cold War bomb shelter. It’s a nice touch, although professionalism, business acumen, and local economic impact will probably carry more weight in the merit-based selection process than having a grow-house that can withstand a thermonuclear blast.

Arizona-based Modern Flower, a medical marijuana cultivator-wholesaler, has come half way across the country to compete for their chances. Modern Flower CEO, Jen Gote left Lancaster, PA a decade ago to conquer AZ’s bustling cannabis cultivation market. Gote is thrilled to find herself now returning to PA in hopes of bringing what she’s learned back home.

“We are doing everything we can to bring our knowledge and business experience to Pennsylvania. We are excited to not only bring patients a higher quality of life without opiates, but to also help boost the economy by creating new jobs and tax revenue. Marijuana can change lives in so many ways. This isour chance to make history and create a new outlook on life” –Jen Gote, Modern Flower, Arizona applicant

Unlike flower-heavy medical programs such as those in California or Arizona, the Pennsylvania medical program will be highly restrictive and does not include smokable cannabis, or even edibles. Instead, patients will only be allowed to purchase cannabis in the form of pills, oils, topical creams, or gels and liquids. Doctors can certify patients for seventeen different qualifying conditions, including common cannabis conditions like chronic pain, cancer, epilepsy and HIV.

Though the program was signed into law almost a year ago by an enthusiastic Governor Tom Wolf, much of the regulatory process has been slow to implement. As a whole, the state is more than ready to establish legitimate opportunities for patients and address what many see as a drug war gone wrong. Philadelphia advocates, Philly420 point out last year almost twenty thousand Pennsylvanians were arrested for possessing 30 grams or less.

According to the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System, that number is “equal to heroin, cocaine, meth, opiates, and all other drug possession arrests combined.” The Philadelphia Inquirer further reports each prosecution cost the state $1,266 to process. For the state’s 5,500 cultivation cases the average cost jumped to $8,600, and that doesn’t include the cost of incarceration.

Pennsylvania’s Auditor General Eugene DePasquale sees the fledgling medical program as a necessary first step to legalization and heartily approves of the idea. Newsweek noted, DePasquale points out it’s “one area that we can do this budget that will bring revenue and cut costs at the exact same time and that would be the regulation and taxation of marijuana.” Elsewhere DePasquale has estimated full legalization could generate in excess of $200 million a year in taxes.

READ MORE: Businesses seek to stake claims in Pa. medical marijuana gold rush by Nick Malawskey, Penn Live