Nika Elugardo gives Jeffrey Sánchez a run for his money
As a Mission Hill resident and cannabis advocate, I have vivid memories of the years leading up to the 2012 ballot question legalizing medical marijuana. In those days, till the voters finally took matters into their own hands, all medical marijuana legislation remained bottled up in the Joint Committee of Public Health, chaired by my district’s representative, Jeffrey Sánchez.
This year, Sánchez faces a challenger to be reckoned with in the Sept 4 primary: Nika Elugardo, an MIT-educated lawyer originally from Columbus, Ohio, who struggled with poverty during her early years, as well as with people telling her not to aim too high. (Her high school guidance counselor was so mad when Elugardo got into MIT that she gave a party for everyone in her class “who didn’t get into their dream school”—in other words, everyone but her.) Elugardo promises to be a progressive Democrat who will not let her positions be dictated by the speaker of the house.
I asked her three questions:
Do you have any ideas about maximizing the benefits or minimizing the risks of legal cannabis?
With legal cannabis, we’re creating a new industry. We must ensure that it’s inclusive of those who’ve been disproportionately impacted by the “war on drugs.” We can achieve this through the economic empowerment priority applicant process and equity provisions. Current legislation must be coupled with adequate funding for outreach to diverse communities and technical assistance in business planning, compliance, industry best practices, and raising capital. As legislators, we need to work with cities and towns to reduce barriers to entry. We need to support small- and medium-size businesses—which we know, from studying other industries, are the true job creators.
We’re a medical and science hub. We shouldn’t forget this when thinking about the cannabis industry. There’s evidence that cannabis can, in some cases, be used in place of opioids. Boston has the talent available to study this topic and see if it’s a possible intervention into the opioid epidemic.
On the campaign trail, I’ve heard some nervousness around edibles and use by children. The legislation is strong here, with a prohibition on marketing to youth. After legalization in Colorado, teen cannabis use actually dropped; we need to work toward the same outcome. We must ensure that schools, parents, and medical professionals deliver medically accurate, age-appropriate information about all substances to young people and their families.
Finally, the adult-use cannabis industry represents a new significant source of revenue for the Commonwealth. As a representative, I’ll make sure that revenue is put to good use for priorities such as the move to single-payer healthcare, funding for addiction treatment and community/integrated mental health care, publicly funded education (early childhood to higher education), and truly affordable housing.
If you are less than totally subservient to House Speaker Robert DeLeo, are you afraid he will marginalize you?
No. Too many reps are tired of having their constituents’ concerns squashed by DeLeo’s special interests and pathological need for the consensus that buffers his position. It’s anti-democratic, and the voters I’m talking to understand that the times we’re in can’t abide that. We need to strengthen democratic institutions, including the House of Representatives. Running for state rep, against leadership, is a challenge, but I’m ready for it. My district and Massachusetts are ready for a new kind of politics. And I’m not doing this alone.
Recently we’ve seen thousands of our neighbors show up at Logan when Trump’s “Muslim Ban” went into effect, follow youth leadership in the March for Our Lives, and descend upon the State House to advocate for the Safe Communities Act. Voters were ready for the SCA, but Speaker DeLeo and my opponent shut it down anyway.
A colleague once said, “Nika could talk a starving dog off a meat truck.” I’ll stand with my constituents but also with other progressive House members who voted with their constituents against DeLeo’s budget. The “no” votes of Reps. Provost, Connolly, and Matias, like the people in the streets, are more than a protest—they’re part of a movement away from the status quo and toward social justice. Many other reps, not just those identifying as progressives, would like more transparency and autonomy. As the critical mass of pro-democracy voices grows stronger and louder, we will stand together. I will help provide the leadership and organizing tools to ensure this. True leadership doesn’t require a position to be effective.
The culture of complicity, retaliation, and silence on Beacon Hill is coming to an end, and I’m excited to be one small part of a new beginning. I won’t compromise on key progressive values or act as de facto staff to the speaker because I’m running to represent my constituents and to make real change.
What do you especially want to do if elected?
I envision our community—in Greater Boston and nationwide—working to co-create real justice for all, to unlearn practices and undo policy and political structures that keep in place misogyny, racism, homo/transphobia, and xenophobia. I envision a community where we have built political and economic systems that promote people before profit.
From this vision comes an integrated policy infrastructure grounded on equal and accessible health care, housing, and education for all. My platform works toward living wages, indexed to inflation, and provides for climate justice by making substantial public investments in integrated transit, green energy, and a green economy.
I also look forward to building on recently enacted legislation, particularly in criminal justice reform. I’ll work to abolish solitary confinement, eliminate mandatory minimums, end cash bail, and decriminalize immigration—precursors to abolishing mass incarceration. I’ll work with advocates, lawmakers, and residents to continue expanding diversionary programming and replacing damaging prison environments with tools and opportunities for healing, personal/professional development, and transformative justice.
Ed. note: Rep. Sanchez did not respond to a request for an interview.