When Gov. Tate Reeves signed Senate Bill 2095 into law, making Mississippi the 37th state to sanction medical cannabis, entrepreneurs both large and small throughout the state began implementing plans that, in some cases, they have been developing for years.
As is common with a new industry, there are certain to be obstacles in the path.
But it’s fair to say that no one anticipated access to electricity would be one of those obstacles.
Yet in North Mississippi, lingering confusion about access to electricity has threatened to put the 36 counties served by Tennessee Valley Authority out of the medical marijuana business before they even start.
Soon after Mississippi’s medical marijuana law was approved, TVA issued an ambiguous statement on whether it would provide electricity to businesses involved in the manufacture, processing, testing and distribution of medical marijuana.
TVA is the nation’s only federally-owned electric power producer and, as such, must comply with federal law. While medical marijuana is now legal in 37 states, marijuana is still a Schedule 1 drug and is not legal on the federal level.
Electricity is the second-highest cost for production of medical marijuana, and it requires an enormous amount of electricity to cultivate marijuana. So you can see what’s at stake here.
Both LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins and Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley fear the lack of clarity on the part of TVA has put North Mississippi at a disadvantage because medical marijuana businesses may opt to locate their operations outside the TVA service area where access to power is not in question.
Will TVA service those businesses?
Even local utilities who get their power from TVA aren’t sure. Starkville Utilities GM Terry Kemps says yes. Columbus Light and Water GM Angela Verdell and 4-County Electric Power GM Brian Clark aren’t so sure.
Faced with demands for clear guidance, TVA issued a second statement on its position Thursday, but the updated statement still doesn’t state its position clearly.
There is one thing to pay particular attention to here. TVA does not provide electricity directly to users, but to local utility companies.
TVA spokesman Scott Brooks noted that TVA will continue to serve its customers — the utility companies. Since no utility companies plan to expand into the marijuana business, you can read between the lines.
“We will not be pulling the plug on anyone,” Brooks said. “That was never the plan.”
In short, what local utilities do with the power they purchase from TVA is their own business, and since utility companies cannot withhold service to legal businesses that are legal in the state, it is highly unlikely that medical marijuana businesses will be denied electricity.
While TVA is the only federally-owned power producer, there are four federally-owned electricity providers (Power Marketing Administrations known as PMAs) whose combined service areas blanket the country. All four of those PMAs provide electricity in states with medical marijuana.
Given that well-established precedent, there is no reason to believe the federal government will intervene and prohibit TVA, through local utility companies, from providing the essential electricity the medical marijuana industry relies on.
TVA is just unwilling to come right out and say it.