A key question in tuberculosis control is why some strains of M. tuberculosis are preferentially associated with resistance to multiple drugs. We demonstrate that M. tuberculosis strains from lineage 2 (East Asian lineage and Beijing sublineage) acquire drug resistances in vitro more rapidly than M. tuberculosis strains from lineage 4 (Euro-American lineage) and that this higher rate can be attributed to a higher mutation rate. Moreover, the in vitro mutation rate correlates well with the bacterial mutation rate in humans as determined by whole-genome sequencing of clinical isolates. Finally, using a stochastic mathematical model, we demonstrate that the observed differences in mutation rate predict a substantially higher probability that patients infected with a drug-susceptible lineage 2 strain will harbor multidrug-resistant bacteria at the time of diagnosis. These data suggest that interventions to prevent the emergence of drug-resistant tuberculosis should target bacterial as well as treatment-related risk factors.