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On Monday, Jefferson County prosecutors charged two men with cultivating marijuana in the Pike National Forest, near Deckers. They also charged one of the men with possession of marijuana, intent to distribute.

You kind of knew the second count was coming, since Drug Enforcement Agency agents found almost 15,000 plants up there.

The value of the marijuana was estimated at $12.5 million, making this the largest outdoor bust in state history. The grow site sabotaged the surrounding ecosystem and put hikers in danger of stumbling upon a very dangerous farming family.

This kind of publicity, and the idiocy of most pop-culture "weed" references, have cast aspersions on those who promote marijuana as medicine — nearly a decade after Colorado's 2000 vote to approve Amendment 20. But since 2008, scores of people have opened up shop to serve those who qualify for legal marijuana use. One local expert estimates that Colorado Springs is suddenly home to 13 dispensaries.

So in this week's cover story, David Accomazzo explores what's changed on the local, state and federal levels to make these golden days in the medical marijuana business. In a companion piece, J. Adrian Stanley visits one local dispensary and talks with a few people who contend that access to the herb has vastly improved, or even saved, their lives.

— Kirk Woundy

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