OTTAWA -- The latest entrant to the federal NDP leadership race says it's "offensive" the government is allowing people to be charged with marijuana possession while there's a bill before Parliament to legalize it.

Jagmeet Singh, who currently sits in the Ontario legislature, said Canada absolutely needs "to immediately decriminalize" marijuana, a position the federal NDP has held for years. The party promised in the 2015 election to decriminalize it right away if it formed government.

"Right now under [Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau... we have people who are still being charged and are being incarcerated, for an offence that in the short term will eventually become completely legal," Singh, a former defence lawyer, said in an interview with Evan Solomon, host of CTV's Question Period.

"That makes no sense at all. That's offensive."

The federal Liberals have presented a bill to legalize marijuana for Canadians 18 years and older, but don't expect it to become law before July 1, 2018. Trudeau campaigned in 2015 on legalizing marijuana use, but he and others in his government say the current law will be enforced until the new one takes effect.

Singh says Canada wastes too many resources putting non-violent people in jail without making an impact on society.

"The goal is to ensure people are healthy, ensure that we have a society that's vibrant, and the resources that we're allocating to criminalizing people, to putting people in jail, is not an effective use of resources," said Singh.

While Singh spoke strongly in favour of decriminalization, he deferred other policy questions until he eventually presents his campaign platform. He wouldn't say whether he supports pipeline development, increased defence spending or retaliatory trade action against the U.S. over softwood lumber tariffs.

"I'm really excited to share our policy platform. It's going to come out and when it comes out, we're going to address a lot of these issues," he said.

Singh announced last Monday that he's joining the race to replace Tom Mulcair as federal NDP leader. Four candidates are officially confirmed: MPs Charlie Angus, Niki Ashton, Guy Caron and Peter Julian. Former veterans' ombudsman Pat Stogran has also said he wants to run.

Leadership contestants have to pay a $30,000 registration fee and submit signatures from 500 federal NDP members, with at least 50 members from each of Quebec, the Atlantic, Ontario, British Columbia and the North, and the Prairies.

Singh says he'll be at the next debate in Sudbury, Ont. on May 28.

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