UPDATE 2-Canada plans marijuana legalization by spring 2017 -minister

Wed Apr 20, 2016 3:49pm EDT
 
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(Adds stock price moves by medical marijuana producers)

By Ethan Lou

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.

Shares of medical marijuana producers rose on Wednesday after the Philpott's announcement with Canopy Growth Co rising 6.67 percent to C$2.72 by mid-afternoon. OrganiGram Holdings rose 9.26 percent to C$1.18 and Aphria Inc rose 5.19 percent to C$1.62.

There has been speculation existing medical marijuana companies could benefit if the drug is fully legalized but the Canadian government has not provided details on its production and distribution plans. (Additional reporting by Leah Schnurr in Ottawa; Editing by Grant McCool and Bill Trott)