The Tennessee Valley Authority has walked back a threat made earlier this month to deny electricity service to cannabis operations, acknowledging in a statement on Thursday that the agency is required to provide power to all customers in its service area.
“We want to be clear about TVA’s position on the implications to our energy service to Mississippi customers: TVA has an obligation to serve our customers with safe, reliable, low-cost energy and we will continue to do so,” the utility wrote in a statement. “There will be no interruption in service because of this newly signed law.”
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is a federally-owned electric utility company that provides power to millions of customers in Tennessee and parts of six surrounding southern states. In a statement obtained by reporters, the TVA noted that despite cannabis reform at the state level, marijuana is still a federally illegal substance. The statement was released on February 2, the same day that Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state. The TVA provides power to local utilities that deliver electricity to customers in three dozen counties in northeastern Mississippi.
“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 wrote in its statement. “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.”
The statement also warned that if a TVA employee learns that a local utility is supplying electricity to a customer that “is engaged in activity that may violate federal law governing marijuana, the employee will report the activity to their management, and TVA management will make a determination regarding our reporting obligations to agencies that may have proper jurisdiction to enforce the federal Controlled Substances Act.”
Federal and State Officials Blast TVA Warning
The TVA’s statement drew a swift rebuke from two U.S. congressmen and members of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee. In a statement on Thursday, the representatives noted that the TVA is required by federal law to provide power to all customers.
“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,” Cohen and Blumenauer wrote. “Any suggestion of requiring TVA employees to report end-use 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.”
In a separate statement, Cohen said that if the TVA follows through on its warning, the agency “would also be sadly out of step with the American people, even after polls and elections are showing again and again how voters react when given the choice to weigh in on access to cannabis.”
State officials in Mississippi also pushed back on the TVA’s warning to deny power service to cannabis operations. Mississippi Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley reiterated the TVA’s responsibility to provide power to all customers and noted that the agency does not have authority over local power companies.
“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,” Presley said in a statement posted to Twitter on Thursday. “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,” Presley added. “Once power is delivered by the TVA 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.”
Although the TVA acknowledged it is obligated to provide electricity to all customers in its service area, the utility noted in last week’s statement that it was continuing to seek the advice of federal officials.
“The broader issue is a complex one and represents a conflict between state and federal law. We are looking to the appropriate federal agencies for further clarification and have requested additional guidance,” the TVA said. “Our service to our customers remains unchanged and we will continue to carry out our mission.”