Do scientific studies find African Americans are “about 10 times more likely to lie and say they hadn’t smoked pot?”
The statistic was one of several incendiary claims about marijuana made by columnist Ann Coulter at a Politicon debate Saturday.
In response to fellow panelist Ana Kasparian’s statement that African-Americans are arrested and prosecuted for weed at much higher rates than their white counterparts, Coulter countered, “This is based on self-reports.”
She continued, “There have been further studies where they actually drug test the person after asking ‘Do you smoke pot, or have you smoked pot in the last week?’ and it turns out there’s a racial difference in telling the truth on ‘Did you smoke pot’? Blacks were about ten times more likely to lie and say they hadn’t smoked pot.”
When Kasparian expressed disbelief in the form of laughter, Coulter told moderator Touré she would email the study to him.
The Cannabist reached out to Touré yesterday, and Coulter had indeed emailed the journalist links to four studies she presumably felt would back up her debate statements. He provided those links to The Cannabist.
Of the four studies Coulter sent to Touré, all received government funding. The most recent was from 2014, and the oldest dated back to 2000 (analyzing data from 1994).
So did the studies support her statement? When it came to self-reporting marijuana use, two of the studies did reflect under-reporting by African-Americans compared to their white counterparts, but two reflected over-reporting by African-Americans.
After reviewing the studies, it appears that the source of Coulter’s “10 times more likely to lie” statistic is a 2005 study published in Journal of Urban Health. In “Race/Ethnicity Differences in the Validity of Self-Reported Drug Use,” University of Illinois researchers analyzed data from a household survey of over 600 adults, ages 18-40 from Chicago conducted from 2001-2002.
“Without a single mediating variable entered, the odds ratios are highly significant, indicating that compared with African-Americans, all others had nearly 10 times the odds of providing concordant responses,” the report determined. The numerical breakdown was: of 191 African-Americans in the study, 14 had a drug test come back positive when they said they hadn’t used in the last 30 days.
It should be noted that the latest research says marijuana can show up in hair drug tests up to 90 days after use, and dark hair is more sensitive to such testing.
The authors of the study summarized their findings with more measured phrasing than Coulter’s: “The concordance rates were nominally lower for African-Americans.” It also noted that, “Those reporting their interview was more private had significantly elevated odds for providing concordant marijuana reports.”
Coulter also provided Touré with a link to a 2014 Emory University study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence titled, “Racial differences in the validity of self-reported drug use among men who have sex with men in Atlanta, GA.” Researchers studied 454 black and 349 white men who had sex with men (MSM) between 2010 and 2012 and found:
In analyses that adjusted for age, education, income, sexual orientation, and history of arrest, black MSM were less likely to report recent use of marijuana (P<0.001) and cocaine (P=0.02), but equally likely to screen positive for either drug. This discrepancy between self-reported and urine-detected drug use was explained by significantly lower sensitivity of self-report for black participants (P<0.001 for marijuana, P<0.05 for cocaine).
Regarding under-reporting for the same level of use, the researchers noted, “Black men might have more concerns about privacy and fear of legal consequences, stemming from perceptions of discrimination in the application of criminal justice. Another factor that may influence truthful reporting of drug use is fear of losing social welfare benefits.”
The other two links Coulter provided connect to the same study published in different places: National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice (2000) and Journal of Quantitative Criminology (2006).
Titled, “Differences in the Validity of Self-Reported Drug Use Across Five Factors: Gender, Race, Age, Type of Drug, and Offense Seriousness,” the report analyzed Drug Use Forecasting Data collected in 1994 and found:
“Black offenders are also more likely to overreport both marijuana and crack/cocaine use relative to White offenders,” researchers found.
A more recent (but by no means current) study by NIH from 2008 (not one of those submitted by Coulter), again found the disparity reversed: “Apparent overestimate of marijuana by self-report (i.e., self-report was positive and hair test was negative) was associated with being African-American.”
Watch the full debate