In a speech at the United Nations, health minister Jane Philpott said the government will introduce legislation to begin legalizing cannabis, next spring.

Philpott, speaking at a special session of the UN General Assembly in New York, made announcement, the first timeline for legalization provided by the Liberals.

“We will introduce legislation in spring 2017 that ensures we keep marijuana out of the hands of children and profits out of the hands of criminals,” Philpott said. “We will work with law enforcement partners to encourage appropriate and proportionate criminal justice measures. We know it is impossible to arrest our way out of this problem.”

Health Canada media relations officer André Gagnon said the government would provide additional information about next steps in the process in late spring or early summer.

The minister, speaking to delegates reviewing the 2009 UN action plan on drugs and the world’s substance abuse issues, said Canada’s approach to cannabis is based in science and public health.

“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,” Philpott said, in her speech. “I believe that if we respect one another’s perspectives and seek common ground we can achieve our shared objective: protecting our citizens.”

The UN General Assembly on global drug policy is the first of its kind since 1998, when the group proposed that nations needed to use law enforcement measures to create a “drug-free world,” an approach that critics have called ineffective.