CORRECTED-Canada plans marijuana legalization by spring 2017 -minister

Wed Apr 20, 2016 2:51pm EDT
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(Corrects headline and first paragraph to show Canada will introduce legislation to legalize marijuana, not decriminalize marijuana)

TORONTO, April 20 (Reuters) - Canada's Liberal government will introduce legislation to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana in spring 2017, Health Minister Jane Philpott said on Wednesday.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised during last year's election campaign that his Liberals would legalize recreational marijuana, following the U.S. states of Washington and Colorado, but the time frame has been unclear.

Philpott, speaking at a special session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York on drug problems around the world, said the Canadian law will ensure marijuana is kept away from children and will keep criminals from profiting from its sale.

"We will work with law enforcement partners to encourage appropriate and proportionate criminal justice measures," she said. "We know it is impossible to arrest our way out of this problem."

Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, the government's point man on legalization, has emphasized current laws that make marijuana illegal remain in effect.

Medical marijuana is a separate issue from recreational marijuana in Canada and already is legal. Canada's medical marijuana growers say a jump in the number of illegal marijuana dispensaries as the federal government decides how to regulate the drug is costing them customers.

Medical marijuana patients in Canada are set to regain the right to grow their own cannabis after a federal court judge in March struck down the ban introduced by the previous Conservative government. (Reporting by Ethan Lou in Toronto; Editing by Grant McCool and Bill Trott)