The woman heading up the federal government’s effort to legalize marijuana says it’s clear Canada needs to change its approach to pot.

"The current situation is not working and we need a better way forward," said Anne McLellan, a former Liberal justice minister and public safety minister. "Legalization with a regulatory regime, such as the task force will be exploring, is the way forward."

McLellan spoke at a press conference Thursday morning as the federal government officially named the task force that could shape its promised marijuana legislation.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Health Minister Jane Philpott made the announcement, emphasizing the need to regulate the use of pot.

"We are taking a public health approach to marijuana," Philpott said.

The Liberals campaigned on legalizing marijuana as a way to regulate its use, arguing it's the most effective way to keep adolescents from abusing it and to stop organized crime from profiting from its sale.

Bill Blair, Wilson-Raybould's parliamentary secretary and a former Toronto police chief, was named to lead the file last winter, but it's taken months to officially announce McLellan and the task force members.

Wilson-Raybould and Philpott said their officials put together a thorough discussion paper setting out the most important questions to address. Philpott said that means the government isn't starting from the beginning.

The task force members include Dr. Perry Kendall, British Columbia's provincial health officer, former RCMP deputy commissioner Rafik Souccar and Dr. Catherine Zahn, the president and CEO of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Blair said marijuana poses significant health and social harm risks.

"The science is overwhelmingly clear that marijuana is not a benign substance, that it presents a risk to certain sectors of our population, particularly kids, in the impact on developing adolescent brains. But it also can have an impact on people who are very frequent users or people who are maybe suffering from other illnesses, particularly mental illness," he said.

Asked about activists' concerns that the government wants to limit pot growing as well as sales, Blair said they're trying to mitigate those risks.

"It is not like tomatoes," he said.

The task force will have a number of other questions to consider, including whether marijuana should be sold at liquor stores, which some of the premiers have suggested they would like to see. Wilson-Raybould wouldn't say what she thought the task force should conclude.

They also emphasized the current laws remain in place until the new law is passed. It likely won't be introduced until next spring.

The task force will hold consultations until Aug. 29 and report back to Philpott, Wilson-Raybould and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale in November.

Marijuana activist Marc Emery says he’s doubtful the task force will look at all sides of the marijuana argument.

“I’m not optimistic we’re going to get a lot of sympathy for the growers and sellers who are currently in business,” he told CTV News Channel from Toronto, adding he doesn’t believe any of the panel members actually smoke pot themselves.

He did applaud the appointment of Susan Boyd, who he says has done “some excellent research” on marijuana. “I would say she is probably the most sympathetic person on the task force toward the marijuana consumer and culture,” Emery said.

But he called McLellan “the worst possible choice” for the task force, noting she once called marijuana a “scourge.”

Emery said pot activists like him simply want to be able to continue growing and selling marijuana, without government interference.

“We just want it to be legal and to pay taxes. We don’t want our industry given over to friends of the government,” he said.

He added that while the task force discusses the legalization issue, he will continue to open dispensaries, selling the drug to Canadians over the age of 19.

“That’s how legalization truly should look like and that’s the landscape I want to help create,” he said.