PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Medical marijuana dispensaries could be up and running in Rhode Island as early as next year.

It’s been years in the making, and now the R.I. Department of Business Regulation (DBR) will hold a random lottery at 10 a.m. Friday to award five out of six new dispensary licenses.

The event will be highly choreographed, with the use of official numbered balls from the Rhode Island Lottery that have been inspected and weighed by experts at the University of Rhode Island and put in a briefcase sealed with bomb squad tape since April 30.

Former FBI agent Russell Griffiths will wear short sleeves and be blindfolded as he picks the balls that have been rotated in the tumbler borrowed from Twin River Casino.

“We want everybody in Rhode Island, patients, policymakers, and most importantly the folks who are in the lottery to have confidence themselves that this is done in a truly random fashion,” Chief of Cannabis Regulation Matt Santacroce said.

The DBR will randomly award the licenses to the qualified applicants in the previously selected geographic Zones 1 to 5, holding off on awarding any licenses in Zone 6 because of the ongoing appeal.

A total of 37 applications from 23 companies will be in play for the five coveted licenses.

“It’s an important opportunity and an important moment for our medical marijuana program and for our patient population,” Santacroce added. “They’re going to have more places to buy clean, safe, and affordable medicine. We’re going to have a more competitive and hopefully vibrant market in our state and we’re excited to get it done.”

The five lottery winners will have nine months to open their compassion centers.