UPDATE 3-Canada aims for marijuana legalization in 2017

Wed Apr 20, 2016 6:19pm EDT
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(Adds comments from Conservative legislator, marijuana company analyst)

By Ethan Lou

TORONTO, April 20 (Reuters) - Canada's Liberal government will introduce a law in spring 2017 to legalize recreational marijuana, it said on Wednesday, fulfilling an election pledge and following several U.S. states in permitting easy access to the drug.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised during last year's election campaign that his Liberals would legalize recreational marijuana, but the time frame has been unclear. Trudeau has previously admitted to smoking marijuana a few times in his life but said he never enjoyed it much.

Health Minister Jane Philpott, speaking at a special session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, said the Canadian law will ensure marijuana is kept away from children and 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."

The announcement came on April 20, a day celebrated by some cannabis advocates as "weed day." Hundreds gathered outside Canada's Parliament on Wednesday to smoke marijuana.

Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, the government's point man on legalization, has emphasized current laws banning marijuana remain in effect, but illegal dispensaries have multiplied after the Liberals came to power.

Voters in four U.S. states plus the District of Columbia have already legalized the recreational use of the drug in ballot initiatives. Advocates have pushed for similar referendums this year in a half-dozen other states, including Massachusetts and California.   Continued...