High-stakes poker enthusiast and Cirque du Soleil founder, Guy Laliberte, was arrested on his private island in French Polynesia for growing cannabis. He was charged with possession and cultivation of narcotics. His lawyer claims the 60-year-old uses marijuana for medical reasons.
The Montreal billionaire was charged on Tuesday, and subsequently released on Wednesday, after seeing a judge. His company, Lune Rouge, said in a statement that Laliberte hasn’t engaged in drug trafficking. He is alleged to have grown cannabis plants on the island of Nukutepipi in the French Polynesia.
He faces up to 10 years in prison under French law, but in most cases, cannabis growers aren’t sent to prison unless they are repeat offenders. So, Laliberte may never see a prison cell even if convicted.
Laliberte Releases Statement
Laliberte said in a statement that he was “surprised” he was arrested, given the small amount of cannabis he claims to have grown.
“The disproportionate importance given to this matter, which is generally trivialized for someone in possession of several plants of cannabis for strictly personal use, greatly surprises me,” he said.
He did, however, say that he was treated “in a professional and respectful manner” upon his arrest. Laliberte also said he will “continue to co-operate with the judicial authorities of French Polynesia.”
Laliberte claims his use of marijuana is strictly for medical purposes. He alleges that he only grows a small amount, and doesn’t sell cannabis.
From Cirque du Soleil to ‘High Stakes Poker’
Laliberte founded the popular acrobatic show, Cirque du Soleil, in 1984. He also founded the One Drop Foundation, a charity that focuses on water initiatives.
His non-profit has sponsored the One Drop charity poker tournaments during the World Series of Poker since 2012. That includes the $1 million buy-in, Big One for One Drop, which took place in 2012, 2014, and 2018.
Laliberte cashed in the inaugural Big One for One Drop, finishing in fifth place for $1.8 million. Antonio Esfandiari won the event for a then-record, $18.3 million.
Laliberte is an avid poker player, although we haven’t seen him much in televised cash games or tournaments recently. He appeared in multiple “High Stakes Poker” episodes on Game Show Network during the poker boom era.