Tia didn’t think twice when Corey asked her to get him a gun. By then, he wasn’t eating much or going outside. He’d just pace the apartment in Green, every five minutes cracking the blinds to peer at the street down the hill, running the same thoughts on loop. Was that the same white van as before? Didn’t that guy with the dogs walk by an hour ago? Was someone in the woods again? “I feel they’re coming back,” Corey told Tia. “I feel it in my gut.” He asked her to get an AR-15.
Along with a friend, Tia went to a local gun show, buying both the rifle for Corey and a pistol for herself. The irony didn't slip past her. Here was Tia — tiny at 23, bleached skin and kind eyes the color of light blue crayon — with zero firearms training. But buying military-grade ordnance? Sure: easy and legal. Yet the same law books would call her a criminal for possessing weed. And weed was why they were running for guns in the first place.
Tia took the new purchases back. Home was an apartment, part of a triplex topping a hill fully dressed with dense woods, empty acres Corey and his friends would smash through on dirt bikes or zoom drones over. Technically, home now was apartments. By then Tia and their two kids were living in the middle unit while Corey ran the business and paced next door. He'd promised he'd give up his customers to his friends. Six months more, he'd told Tia. Now she wasn't sure. Everything was spinning faster, as if someone was pressing down on an accelerator.
Those two apartments: Tia didn't miss the irony there, either. The separate living arrangements were the physical embodiment of the separate lifestyles they were now living. Corey and Tia. Mustard and Titi. Weed dealer and mainstream marijuana activist. Mom and dad. Sure, she thought about leaving. But those thoughts never stretched too far. "There was no Tia and Corey breaking up," she says today. "We were ride or die. So I stayed with him. I was living in the separate house. I think we were living double lives."
But now Tia was seeing a third iteration of the man she'd been with for seven years — and it scared her. Corey's lanky frame, right arm swirled shoulder-to-wrist in tattoos, nervously paced the apartment again. His usual sly smile lit less and less from his scruffy beard. Some mornings he'd wake up missing his dead dad. He told Tia she couldn't leave him with the kids because he was worried he couldn't protect them then. "He would just want to be held," Tia says. "Corey was never like that." He was just waiting.
The next time you pack that bowl with good green or lip on the joint making the rounds at the party, think about where it's coming from. "Do you guys understand what these kids are going through to get you your freaking pot?" Tia says now. "It's insane."
She's sitting in a suburban mall coffee kiosk, her small hands wrapped around a steaming latte. Despite shouldering through a stack of traumas — broken homes, drug overdose, child custody fights, a dead boyfriend — that would easily scramble the spirits of a lesser person, she's remarkably upbeat. "Really, I think Corey and I were in a polyamorous relationship with marijuana," she admits, half-kidding, blue eyes flashing regret. "That was our girlfriend, and then we had each other. The side-piece was marijuana."
Ohio is idling at a crossroads in terms of marijuana reform. A tug-of-war between various interests and resistance has left the state lagging behind the national trend that's seen some form of legalization in 23 states and Washington, D.C. Last November, Ohio voters soundly knocked down Issue 3, a ballot initiative for both medicinal and recreational marijuana that placed the business firmly in the control of a set number of players. All this is happening while an opiate epidemic has smashed the state like a typhoon.
This year, another pro-legalization group, Legalize Ohio 2016, has been busy collecting signatures for a followup November ballot option. Voters could again face the choice of greenlighting Buckeye State marijuana use. At the time same, last month a legislative task force tapped with hammering together a medicinal weed proposal announced that they'd come up with a bill to take to legislators. Rep. Stephen Huffman, a Tripp City Republican on the task force, told the Columbus Dispatch in late March the proposal could hit the legislature as early as this July.
"We need to do something to get it correct," Huffman told the Dispatch. "If not, the ballot initiative will come and it will not be good for the people."
The grassroots and legislative scrambles toward marijuana reform — any type of reform — shine a spotlight on the schizophrenic nature of the American pot scene. Although use has increasingly gained mainstream acceptance, in states still dragging ass when it comes to clear policy — states like Ohio — the underground market is the only channel feeding demand. And Tia Gilbert knows more than most the cost of the underground. "I lost the love of my life because of a plant," she says, sad eyes locked on her latte.
Tanya Seibel likes to tell an anecdote from Corey's early days, one that's a handy skeleton key for popping open who he'd later become. When her first-born was just trying to master the fundamentals of walking, Tanya watched the baby mount the high stairs at the family's home in Lake Township. Forecasting an ugly header or injury, she cooed over to the baby: "Corey. Get down. Corey, get down." But Corey had other ideas, spinning around to ask his mother: "Or what?"
"By god, he was going to climb those stairs at any price," Seibel says today with a laugh. "And this was someone who was under 2 saying, 'Or what?' That was the theme of his whole life. He was going to do what he was going to do."
Corey would be the oldest of three boys. According to Tanya, their childhoods were standard-issue suburbia. Their father, Scott, was a postman. "It was a good life," she says. From an early age, Corey seemed less interested in material things — even clothes. "I don't think he even liked the feel of clothing."
Tanya's oldest went where his compass pointed, no matter what. Often, in school, that meant fighting for other kids who were getting picked on or bullied. "I had mothers calling and thanking me because Corey stood up for their kid," Tanya remembers. When he was older, Corey began paying close attention to food, the chemicals and GMOs stuck in daily groceries. He filled his family's ears with organic food gospel, and even went through Tanya's cupboard with a pen marking products with skulls and crossbones.
Unfortunately, the family's smooth life was upset when Corey's dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. The family watched as Scott Seibel withered away. "Corey was only 19 when their dad died," Tanya explains. "It was a rough road. I think he was a little angry because his dad had been a smoker."
Corey and Tia met at a poker game in a friend's garage. She was 16. He was 20. Weed was there right from the start. "I remember Corey pulled out these huge, purple nuggets," Tia says. From there, the two were inseparable. On the surface, their experiences with marijuana were straight out of the suburbs: bored, aimless kids covertly killing empty hours in blasts of weed smoke. "Weed was a huge no-no in my house," Tia says. "I remember the face my grandmother had when she found my first bowl: complete disgust. I felt ashamed."
But both Corey and Tia were also finding marijuana was an effective way to tunnel out from the complex feelings weighing them down. Corey was still dealing with the fallout from his dad's death, Tia says; she admits she was still working through her feelings from growing up in a broken home. Weed opened different doors for each.
In 2009, the young couple was dealt a shocker when Tia became pregnant. Corey, desperate for money for his new family, got in a fight behind a bowling alley with a guy who owed him cash. Corey ended up catching a felonious assault charge due to the incident. He was sentenced to two years in prison. Corey was locked up when Tia went into labor prematurely, giving birth to a 1-pound, 5-ounce daughter who immediately headed for the NICU.
Corey eventually secured an early release from prison. But within a year, he'd offended the conditions of his release, landing back inside. This time around, Tia found herself trying to support a baby with endless shifts at Chipotle. Weed wasn't enough to handle all the stress; after hopping through various substances — some prescribed by doctors, some not — she started shooting heroin. "He was in prison, and I was absolutely miserable, and I was using heroin to cope with my emotions about losing Corey. I'd lost my best friend, and I was losing my mind."
And almost her life. When Corey was in prison, she overdosed on a blast of herion. She was 19.
She would later think of them as cocoon moments – clichéd and corny, whatever. That's what they were. You walked into a situation one way, walked out completely different.
After heroin almost gulped her down for good, Tia quit cold turkey. Marijuana, however, did play an integral part in getting clean, she says. When Corey came home from his second run in prison, he also returned transformed. According to Tia, inside Corey had come under the influence of a few fellow inmates who big-brothered him about being a responsible dad. Corey responded. Back home, he began to provide for his daughter and a son Tia had had in the meantime from another relationship. Still, there were limited options out there for a guy with his resume.
"His record prevented him from working in some fields," Corey's mom, Tanya admits. "But working one crappy job after the next, I think he realized how much more could be made doing what he was doing."
Corey went back to dealing marijuana. But he had his own cocoon moment coming. Around last March, Corey was involved in a deal that went bad. He was convinced law enforcement was looking for him, so he split town, leaving behind Tia and the kids. Her situation nose-dived further when a friend fighting through opiate addiction overdosed and died.
It was a life-changer for Tia. Here, people were struggling, turning to medications and pharmaceuticals. "Let's stop over-medicating," she says. "Let's introduce natural remedies." There was an obvious demand for marijuana. But in states without medicinal or recreational use, the underground was the only option. That demand, Tia realized, wasn't going to simply turn off.
Tia began reaching out to pro-legalization groups, like ComfyTree, an organization that trains people on setting up marijuana businesses in legal markets. The more conversations she had, the more Tia began volunteering her time to movements pushing forward with legalization efforts. She traveled with other activist groups to Washington, D.C. for pro-pot rallies, and also trekked out to Denver for High Times' Cannabis Cup. The covert chutes and ladders necessary to score weed in the underground market were pointless, she realized, in a well-regulated state. "I just thought, 'Fuck it, I'm going legal,'" Tia remembers.
When Corey turned back up, he'd had a similar moment. Corey had been hiding out for two months in Michigan. According to Tia, Corey had passed the time at a caregiver farm in the country where he helped a woman grow covert marijuana meant for people battling medical problems. Back in Ohio now, Corey had a newfound sense of the power of the plant, Tia says, that synced with her own feelings about the need for sensible marijuana reform. Corey just wanted a farm where he could raise his family in peace.
Last spring, the couple and two kids moved into an apartment in a building topping a wooded rise in Green, south of Akron proper. The neighborhood was mostly suburban development curling around Appalachian hills. A gravel and dirt road wound up to the triplex. After moving in, the drive was soon rutted from all the traffic pulling in and out.
The customers, Tia says, were more often than not using medicinally even though no doctor had cut them a script. But weed filled a need or opened some doors.