The federal government has announced the first step toward an eventual legalization of marijuana in Canada, with a law expected to be tabled in the spring of 2017.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould announced the creation of a task force on Thursday morning in Ottawa, calling it “the first step in a process.”
“Our intent is to come up with legislation that will regulate non-medical access to marijuana, keeping it out of the hands of children and the hands of criminals,” she said.
The justice minister was careful to note that until the new law is in place, the drug is still illegal in Canada. The legal exceptions for medical use will also remain in place, she added.
Over the next four months, the task force will consult provincial, territorial, indigenous and territorial governments, as well as youth and experts in relevant fields like healthcare, criminal justice, economics, industry and law enforcement.
The group will also be speaking to companies with expertise in the sale, production and distribution of marijuana, officials said Thursday.
The task force will be chaired by former Liberal cabinet minister and deputy prime minister Anne McLellan.
McLellan told reporters she was “pleased” to be chosen.
Canadians can contribute to the conversation via an online consultation tool, which will launch Thursday.
“The task force members and I look forward to the challenge ahead of us,” McLellan said, adding that her group is most concerned about how best to legalize marijuana, not whether it should be done in the first place.
The NDP’s Guy Caron said his party was “extremely disappointed” by what it heard Thursday morning.
He said the NDP doesn’t necessarily think legalization should be rushed, but that the government should at least decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in the interim.