OTTAWA -- Canadians should be able to smoke marijuana legally by July 1, 2018, a government source has confirmed.

The federal government intends to introduce legislation by April 20 to legalize pot, with the intention of the law being in place by Canada Day next year. The House isn't sitting the week of April 20, so that likely means it will be introduced the week of April 10.

The Liberals promised during the election to legalize marijuana. The planned legislation follows a detailed report prepared by a task force led by former justice minister Anne McLellan.

In its report released last fall, the task force made 80 recommendations, including letting Canadians as young as 18 purchase pot legally, though it recommends letting the provinces determine whether to harmonize the minimum age for pot purchases with the legal age to purchase alcohol. It also recommended allowing storefront and mail-order sales, as well as a four-plant-per-person growing limit.

The report also recommended strict advertising limits, similar to those in place for tobacco, and a public education campaign about the risks of marijuana, as well as how to lower the risks associated with it.

Medical marijuana is currently sold legally only through the mail to those with prescriptions.

The Liberals have said they want to impose strict laws to keep marijuana away from young Canadians and take away revenue from illegal pot sales from organized crime.

"The fact that one makes a product legal does not necessarily mean that it is without risk," Health Minister Jane Philpott said Monday in London, Ont.

"Both tobacco and alcohol are available to informed adults under regulated and restricted circumstances. We have very strong public health programs to make sure people are aware of the harms of those products."

Date 'highly speculative'

Philpott says the government's responsibility is to make sure the appropriate rules and public health measures are in place.

"No one is proposing that tobacco should be made illegal. But we have a strong public health focus. We tell people the dangers associated and informed consenting adults have access."

The NDP has criticized the government for the delay in introducing the legislation, allowing marijuana users to continue to be arrested for possession despite the pending legalization. The government, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Liberal MP Bill Blair, the former Toronto police chief who is the government's lead official on the controversial file, have emphasized that buying pot continues to be illegal until the legislation comes into force.

In an interview with Don Martin, host of CTV's Power Play, Blair said any talk of when the new laws would take effect is "highly speculative."

"I have not discussed with anyone the date at which the legislation may be brought forward, except to say our government has made a commitment to bring legislation forward in the spring of 2017, and that's all I've said to anyone on the subject," Blair said, noting the bill will have to work its way through the House and a House committee, as well as going through the same process in the Senate.

"I do not speculate on how much time that will take," he said.

Conservative MP Colin Carrie says the news of the bill to legalize marijuana use is about changing the channel from last week's federal budget.

"The job of the government is the health and safety of Canadians. We know the science is clear. For kids up to age 25, the brain is still developing. Marijuana is illegal because it's dangerous and it can be very unsafe for our kids," Carrie said.

Plus, he added, "Police officers still don't have the tools in order to determine whether somebody is impaired or not."

Delay means more potential possession charges

NDP justice critic Alistair MacGregor said in a statement Monday that waiting until July, 2018, will mean another year of potential records for possession for thousands of Canadians.

"There have already been tens of thousands of charges and convictions since the Liberals were elected, even though they promised swift action on legalization," MacGregor said.

"Canadians don't understand why the Liberals have refused to immediately decriminalize simple possession.... Justin Trudeau must explain why we're continuing to arrest people today, for an action which will be legal tomorrow."

Blair told CTV's Power Play last December that decriminalization ahead of full legalization would only help organized crime.

"Decriminalization doesn’t achieve any of the public purpose aims of reducing the social or health harms of marijuana use," the Scarborough-Southwest Liberal MP said. "It makes it easier for kids to access. It facilitates the criminal market."