Photo courtesy of @votekiper on Instagram.

Kiper claims cannabis as solution to housing crisis

James Kelly


News Editor


Jon Kiper is running for Governor because he can’t afford to do anything else. The Newmarket Democrat and “Johnny Boston’s International” restaurant owner has served in town government, including the Newmarket Zoning Board and Town Council, for the last decade or so, but says those positions are limited. 

“I quickly learned that there’s a lot of things in New Hampshire that I couldn’t really fix from that position,” Kiper told an audience of about 25 people, mostly students, in the HUB at a PSU Democrats event on Thursday. The next step in the traditional political ladder would be to run for State Representative or Senator, but Kiper believes that’s not realistic with the positions’ $100 annual salaries.

With the cost of housing in Newmarket becoming an increasingly unbearable burden for Kiper, he considered moving across the border to Maine, where legislative salaries are higher and housing is cheaper. “I was ready to do that,” Kiper said, but he realized he had another option to make change and keep up with the cost of living in New Hampshire: run for Governor. 

“I love our state, and I’m not going to just leave because the people in power don’t want to build houses,” Kiper said. “Once I realized that I couldn’t really afford to run for State Rep. or Senate… I decided to run for Governor.”

New Hampshire’s trivial salary for legislators is a significant problem for democracy, Kiper said. When serving at the State House is a volunteer gig rather than a paying job, it excludes everyday people and limits governing to older, wealthier people. “It’s always bugged me… even the Democrats are actually generally older, more conservative,” he said. “New Hampshire is the only state in the entire country that does it that way; all 49 of the other states pay their reps.”

The average base pay for state legislators in the United States is $43,494, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. New Mexico legislators are not salaried, but they do receive a $59/day per diem. Kiper suggests state legislators in NH should receive $500 per week when the State House is in session, which he said would cost around $5 million per year. “If 90% of the people in the state cannot serve because of the logistics of not getting paid, that’s not democracy,” Kiper said, likening the legislature to a plutocratic (ruled by the rich) gerontocracy (ruled by the elderly).

Kiper worries younger and less wealthy people are getting priced out of the state as a whole, not just the legislature. He says the key to tackling rising costs of living is more housing. 

Kiper said his strategy to make housing more affordable is simple: “weed for housing.” The state should sell cannabis the same way they sell alcohol at state liquor stores, and use the profits to build more housing, Kiper said, adding that state distribution could raise as much as $100-150 million. Kiper would put that money towards new housing construction, including tiny homes for homeless people, and rehab old buildings. Some of that money could also fund lead abatement, he said.

The New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration says the potential revenue generated from legalized cannabis is “indeterminable,” but nonetheless has projections for tax revenue from privately sold cannabis (that is, not the liquor store system) that fall below Kiper’s projections. Still, the NH Liquor Commision takes in some $200 million from liquor sales, and neighboring Massachusetts raised $250 million from their cannabis taxes last year. 

A lot of the solution to the housing problem lies in zoning reform, which Kiper said makes him particularly qualified for Governor. But creating changes to town zoning policies at the state level would be difficult, he admitted. “It’s really hard in New Hampshire to have top down housing solutions, just because we have a really big emphasis on local control.” Still, Kiper said towns will have to overcome NIMBYism and build up their downtowns to make housing affordable, even though current zoning laws often prevent that.

“This is something that everyone is going to have to come to wrap [their] head around,” Kiper said. “Your downtown is going to change.” Kiper thinks about town planning the same way he thinks about his brand-new kitten. Even though small towns and small cats are cute, they have to grow eventually “[Towns] are gonna grow. But the question is: do they grow in tent encampments or do they grow in housing?”

If the state takes on weed for housing and legislative salaries, Kiper said it will be in better shape to tackle everything else. The current system is stacked against Democratic progress, Kiper said. “Right now we’re just playing a rigged game.” The key, Kiper said, is to make the State House more representative. “If the focus is the housing, the weed, and then also this democracy piece, then we could do almost anything.”