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More than 350 groups have applied to be the first to legally grow or sell medical marijuana in Illinois, state officials announced Wednesday.

A preliminary count of the applications that beat the Monday afternoon deadline showed 158 applications for cultivation centers and 211 applications for dispensaries.

Bob Morgan, coordinator of the state's medical cannabis program, said the volume of applications "will allow us to pick the most qualified applicants." He added the applicants weren't deterred by the stringent qualifications. It's still unclear how the applications are distributed around the state. That will be announced next week.

Illinois expects to grant up to 21 permits for cultivation centers and up to 60 permits for dispensaries before the end of the year. That would mean the first legal marijuana would be available to registered patients in the spring of 2015.

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