The same day Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves( R) signed a medical cannabis bill into law, one of the largest power companies in the region warned it would not supply services to cannabis operations. After confusion and outcries, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) clarified its position.
TVA provides power to millions of homes and businesses in seven southern states. The company is federally owned and cited this as reasoning for not providing utilities to Mississippi medical cultivators. In their first statement released last week, TVA made their point of view clear, saying, “While some states have enacted (or may soon enact) laws permitting the cultivation and distribution of marijuana for either medicinal or recreational purposes, marijuana, regardless of its intended use, remains a Schedule I substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970.” The TVA further added, “Federal resources and funds may not be purposely used to facilitate activity that potentially violates federal law. Given this important point, TVA will not direct any federal resources or funds to the cultivation and/or distribution of marijuana.” Cultivators and dispensaries that need the power to run and provide cannabis supplies would not even be able to get their businesses off the ground under TVA’s guidelines.
This angered some lawmakers, believing that the TVA was breaking the law by not providing power. According to Representatives Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Steven Cohen of Tennessee, the TVA must service all customers in their area under federal law. They also believe that it is no coincidence TVA’s announcement was released the same day Reeves signed Mississippi’s medical marijuana law. In a letter, the Representatives wrote, “The actions outlined in the February 2 memo, issued on the same day as Mississippi’s enactment of a medical marijuana program, disregard the democratic will of the people of Mississippi.”
Many were also frustrated by TVA’s warning that any TVA employee aware of a local power plant providing utilities to cannabis businesses must report them. Several smaller power plants buy power from TVA and distribute it to companies, and the implication that they would not be able to do so was perceived as highly restrictive. Blumenauer and Cohen also addressed this concern, writing, “Any suggestion of requiring TVA employees to report end-user customers suspected of engaging in activity involving marijuana is an affront to the people who voted in support of a medical cannabis program, to say nothing of the state legislature and governor, who overwhelmingly enacted a medical cannabis program.”
Understandably, TVA’s position caused worry and confusion for Mississippi cultivators, business owners, and patients. Last Thursday, the power company decided to clarify its previous statement. They first assured existing customers no service would be interrupted, then delved into the issue at hand. Brandon Presley, the Public Service Commission, wrote, “Much confusion has ensued in the past week due to a statement sent out by the Tennessee Valley Authority intimating that local electric utilities who buy power from the TVA would not be able to provide electricity to a licensed medical marijuana facility due to possible conflicts with federal law. TVA’s statement has already caused some medical marijuana facilities to look at other areas of the state and therefore possibly denying North Mississippians the benefits of the newly passed medical marijuana program.” He continued, “It is a long-held principle in state law that electric utilities have an obligation to serve customers without discrimination. A licensed medical marijuana facility under Mississippi law is no different. It is my position that any licensed medical marijuana facility should be served with electricity upon application and request. Once the TVA delivers power to a local utility, TVA’s oversight ends and controlling state law and Public Service Commission statutes ensure that these facilities should be served with electricity like any other licensed business.”
This updated statement seems to be a welcome contradiction to TVA’s previous viewpoint surrounding smaller power suppliers under their purview. The natural consequences of restricting power to medical marijuana suppliers in Mississippi have caused TVA to make necessary clarifications.
The new statement illuminated that TVA seems to be just as confused as to proceed as Mississippians were when they read the original message. TVA wrote, “We are looking forward to the appropriate federal agencies for further clarification and have requested additional guidance.” Whether they receive that guidance is yet to be seen, but customers in the cannabis sector will not get power directly from TVA unless TVA is directed otherwise.
The confusion speaks to a more significant issue. Until cannabis is legalized on the federal level, incidents like this will continue. Federally operated companies will remain without guidance on working in legal states, and ultimately medical marijuana businesses and patients will suffer. Hopefully, until federal legalization, federally owned companies can operate to serve state cannabis businesses, and patients will have the access they need.