The Tennessee Valley Authority warned millions of customers last week that it will not supply electricity to cannabis operations producing cannabis legally under state law. The announcement came on the same day that Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves signed a bill legalizing medical marijuana in the state.
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is a federally-owned electric utility company that provides power to millions of business and residential customers in Tennessee and parts of six other southern states, including northeast Mississippi. In a statement obtained by the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, the TVA wrote that despite cannabis reform at the state level, marijuana is still a federally illegal substance.
“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 agency added.
The TVA statement went on to warn that if a TVA employee learns that a local power company 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.”
Several local electric utilities in northeastern Mississippi including Tupelo Power & Light, Oxford Utilities, North East Mississippi Electric Power Association and the Tombigbee Electric Power Association are supplied with electricity by the TVA. But a spokesperson for the energy wholesaler did not clarify if the local power companies would be barred from supplying electricity to customers operating cannabis production facilities.
“I would refer you back to the language in the statement,” TVA spokesperson Scott Brooks told the Daily Journal.
The TVA said that it has reached out to federal authorities including the Department of Justice to ensure that its action is consistent with federal requirements. The electricity provider also said that it welcomed guidance from Congress “that could further inform TVA’s position.”
Congressmen Criticize TVA Warning
After news of the TVA warning broke this week, two Democratic U.S. congressmen, Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Tennessee’s Steve Cohen, wrote a letter to the agency criticizing its announcement. The representatives, both members of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, wrote that the TVA has an obligation under federal law to provide electricity to all customers in its service area. They also noted that the warning from the electric utility coincided with last week’s signing of a medical cannabis legalization bill by Mississippi Governor Reeves.
“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,” they 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. “
“Mississippi joined 36 other states in legalizing cannabis for medicinal use, a big step forward for the health and well-being of Mississippians,” Cohen said in a statement. “But TVA is blatantly ignoring that development by threatening to turn in legal cannabis businesses in Mississippi to federal agents. These policies are outdated, unpopular, and scientifically baseless.”
In their letter, Blumenauer and Cohen urged the TVA to rescind the statement issued last week and noted that the Department of Justice is barred by Congress from impeding, state-legal medical cannabis activities. They also called for the agency “to abide by congressional intent in refraining from impeding states in the implementation of medical cannabis programs.”
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.”
“From ballot measures to state legislatures, states are continuing to create state legal markets, while the federal government has failed to modernize its policies,” he said. “This is a time to provide clarity to TVA and is a golden opportunity to right-size federal cannabis policy.”