By Emily Green

At a conference in late January, Mexico's top tourism official told reporters legalizing marijuana would help combat an epidemic of violence that has enveloped parts of the country.

"It is absurd that we have not taken that step," Tourism Secretary Enrique de la Madrid said. He said cannabis legalization should start in Baja California Sur, a state with hot spots like Los Cabos, and Quintana Roo, where Cancún is located. Both regions saw spikes in violence last year.

The comments ricocheted across the Mexican media. Not only were they unexpected, but they also came six months before a presidential election in which a major debate is how to proceed with a U.S.-backed drug war that has contributed to Mexico's highest homicide rate on record.