04/20/2016 10:42 EDT

Canadian Marijuana Legalization Bill Coming In Spring 2017, Jane Philpott Announces

"Our approach to drugs must be comprehensive, collaborative and compassionate."

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott dropped this little nugget of information on, of all days, April 20: legislation to legalize marijuana in Canada will be introduced in the spring of 2017.

Philpott made the announcement while in New York Wednesday, where she is leading the Canadian delegation to the United Nations General Assembly special session on drugs.

"I am proud to stand up for our drug policy that is informed by solid scientific evidence and uses a lens of public health to maximize education and minimize harm," she said.

"As a doctor, who has worked both in Canada and sub-Saharan Africa, I have seen too many people suffer the devastating consequences of drugs, drug-related crime and ill-conceived drug policy. Fortunately, solutions are within our grasp."

Health Minister Jane Philpott speaks at the United Nations special session on global drug policy on Wednesday. (Photo: Bebeto Matthews/AP/CP)

She conceded the change “challenges the status quo in many countries,” but said Canada’s government is convinced it is the best way to protect the youth and enhance public safety.

Canada will continue to “modernize” its approach to drugs, she said, to embrace among other things compassionate treatment and harm reduction.

Philpott says she recently heard an emotional story from a mother who lost her daughter due to substance abuse.

"She described watching her daughter slip away as she struggled to access the treatment and services that should have been available to save a beautiful, fragile life," she said.

"Stories like this are far too commonplace. Countless lives are cut short due to overdoses of licit and illicit substances. Today, I stand before you as Canada's minister of health to acknowledge that we must do better for our citizens."

A marijuana flag flaps in the wind above the crowd at the annual 4/20 cannabis culture celebration at Sunset Beach in Vancouver on Wednesday. (Photo: Darryl Dyck/CP)

Philpott's speech happened to coincide with 4-20, the annual day of celebration for cannabis culture lovers.

Thousands participated in events across the country to mark the occasion, including on Parliament Hill.

David-George Oldham, the founder of a medicinal marijuana advocacy group and an organizer of the Ottawa event, was satisfied with Philpott's announcement.

"I would like to see a quicker route of action, but I'm pleased to hear of any news really that means we will be getting to a better place for all with respect to cannabis prohibition," he said.

He said he hopes this means "we can have regulations that finally make sense for once."

New task force planned

As Canada looks to proceed with its pot policy, Health Canada is working to develop a new regime for marijuana regulation and control with support from Justice and Public Safety.

The government plans to appoint a task force — led by Liberal MP and former Toronto police chief Bill Blair _ to look into designing such a system. A Health Canada secretariat will support the group.

The task force will solicit the views of provincial and territorial governments, key experts and the general public to help Ottawa implement a legislative and regulatory system "mid-mandate," say internal notes obtained through the Access to Information Act.

Discussions on global drug policy continue in New York until Thursday as officials from around the world gather for the UN meeting, which is billed as the first of its kind in nearly two decades.

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