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Ruminations

"Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"

The rough translation of this phrase from the Roman poet Juvenal's Satires is "Who will watch the watchdogs?"

It came to mind as I look at Milford's September 19 special election ballot question – I call it a "reeferendum" – on whether to ban retail recreational marijuana from being sold legally in town.

Without taking a position on either side of the question, it raises for me the question of who is deciding the town's ethos, a word defined by dictionary.com as "the fundamental character or spirit of a culture; the underlying sentiment that informs the beliefs, customs, or practices of a group or society; dominant assumptions of a people or period."

I raise this question because, in the days of my youth, our religious institutions were the arbiters of our morality. They told us what was and what was not acceptable behavior in our community. That role has faded over the past decades. For example, how many Catholics today follow their religion's prohibition on using birth control?

In religion's place, we fall back on the laws that our local community, state community and national community enact. On the national level, it's still illegal to buy marijuana. But, Massachusetts voters last November said it's okay to buy some weed legally in this state. Milford voters now get a chance to say if it's okay in this town. Basically, that makes all Milford voters the arbiters of the town's ethos regarding marijuana.

But, what if there is a small election turnout? What if only 3,621 people – the same number as last year's Annual Town Election – vote? Do you want only 21 percent of registered voters making that decision for you? At last November's election, the turnout was 13,771, or 76.1 percent. Would that be a better number?

In addition to how many people will decide, there also is the question of who is helping you to decide. Whose information are you listening to as you decide to make an "informed decision" on which way to vote?

I'm not trying to pass judgment on one side or the other. (After all, as Pope Francis said, "Who am I to judge?") But, I have this nagging thought that small groups of people have set themselves up above the rest of the town as the deciders of what you should do. I'm not referring to elected officials – after all, you elected them to do things on your behalf. I am referring to the self-appointed folks who say you should vote this way or that way.

Elected officials can always be removed through the election process. You can change your house of worship and even your religion. But, who is watching over the self-appointed watchdogs?




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