‘Landrace’ was once an obscure technical term employed only by botanists and other experts who understand what it means. Now it’s used worldwide by non-experts who mostly clearly don’t.
Confusion has been the status quo since cannabis aficionados latched on to this jargon a few years ago, three years of which I’ve since spent doing what I can to drive home that the core meaning of landrace is in fact ‘domesticate’ – in the sense of a traditional strain created by people for products they want. As Dr. Ernest Small writes in Cannabis: A Complete Guide: “The term landrace (land race) refers to populations of domesticated plants that were selected over many generations by farmers in a region.”
But Google ‘landrace’ – in the context of cannabis – and you still get deluged with claims that these are wild plants.
The equation that’s led to the current chaos seems to be land + race = wild. This widespread mistake is a problem, not least because it erases the central role of the peoples who created these foundational strains and the marginalized farmers who’ve kept this ancient biodiverse heritage alive through the nightmare of prohibition.
Misleading as it is ugly, the English ‘landrace’ translates terms such as the German ‘Landrasse’. Rasse and its equivalents in other languages of mainland Europe carry two related meanings: race and breed. By contrast, race in its equivalent sense in contemporary Standard English only ever means race. ‘Land race’ is occasionally the orthography in academic literature, a spelling that like the term itself is a relic of an archaic sense of ‘race’ (see Merriam-Webster link above) and serves to sow further confusion.
This confusion drags other stuff with it. Folks are taking that ‘race’ to mean, well, race, when popular understanding of the science of race is stuck somewhere back in the 1930s. With ‘land’ to drive this misconstrued meaning home, the connotations of landrace become perhaps a touch concerning, not least given the long history of racializing cannabis to ‘other’ and degrade marginalized social groups – the very same communities who’ve born the brunt of cruel and misguided drug laws. Recall the history of the name marijuana. Or Xinjiang, where the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Uyghurs by the Chinese state began in the 1930s with the targeting of cannabis cultivation. This plant has been relentlessly coopted for racist agendas.
God only knows, in our addled era, what deranged notions ‘landrace’ is now reinforcing as it cycles through countless iterations on the Internet. Cannabis should be about anti-racism, not perpetuating the deranged race fantasies of bigots and white-supremacists, none of which have any basis whatsoever in science.
But it seems for now we’re stuck with this very ugly and very misleading word.