This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of Citizen magazine as a sidebar article within “Where There’s Smoke…” Please feel free to download and share this FREE article with your friends and family ― compliments of Focus on the Family® Citizen magazine.

The road to legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in Colorado is marked by three distinct eras: The early effort to legalize medical marijuana (2000-2008), the medical marijuana commercialization era (2009-present) and the recreational marijuana era (2014-present). Close followers of the data mark 2009 as the real upward swing because Colorado’s medical marijuana law had such a gigantic loophole, anyone could take advantage of it.

“Medical was kind of a mess,” says Diane Carlson, co-founder of Smart Colorado, a youth advocacy group. “We never regulated medical.”

A person visiting a medical marijuana dispensary could claim to have chronic pain. Many medical pot shops had forms at the counter for a customer to fill out; physicians were available to review it in order to sign off on a red card—the golden key to buying medical marijuana.

The 23 states that subsequently legalized medical marijuana need to understand its role in the progression to recreational usage, advocates say.

“The first thing to understand is that commercialization began five years ago, under the guise of medicine, when the federal government chose to look the other way,” says Bob Doyle, executive director of the Tobacco Free Alliance of Colorado.

The medical marijuana era allowed for the ramp-up in production and distribution planning for the recreational period. So much so, that in the 18 months since the recreational-usage law took effect, metro areas in the state have become smothered in pot dispensaries. With more than 300 retail outlets in Denver, pot shops outnumber McDonald’s and Starbucks franchises combined.

“Marijuana is everywhere here,” says Carlson. “I mean, it is everywhere.”

© 2015 Focus on the Family. Originally published in the August, 2015 issue of Citizen magazine.