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Canadian billionaire, Guy Laliberté, charged with growing weed on his private island

Space travel doesn't seem to be the only thing taking Guy Laliberté out of orbit.

The cofounder of Cirque du Soleil and high-stakes poker player was arrested in November for growing weed on his private island in French Polynesia, Nukutepipi. Photos of his plants were discovered by police in an associate’s phone during questioning on suspicion of drug possession. Soon after (November 13), Laliberté turned himself into authorities, claiming the grow.

The island, which is a part of the Tuamoto group, is about two-and-a-half miles long and comes complete with over a dozen luxury villas, a movie theatre, an astronomical observatory, and several sports facilities. Laliberté purchased the soon-to-be private resort in 2007 and celebrities like U2’s Bono have frequented the tropical getaway.

The 60-year-old Canadian billionaire appeared before a judge in Tahiti and was released after being charged with possession and cultivation of narcotics. On December 5, an investigation of the island uncovered 48 plants, which were seized and destroyed.

"Guy Laliberté completely dissociates himself from any rumour implicating him... in the sale or traffic of drugs,” read a statement released by his company, Lune Rouge.

His lawyer went on to tell reporters the Canadian national uses cannabis for "medical" and "strictly personal" purposes and was not growing the drug for commercial gain. Laliberté simply called the charges “a little funny” after leaving the courthouse.

While French law carries a maximum of 10 years for possession and cultivation, Laliberté is likely to incur a much softer penalty. Cultivators of pakalolo—the Polynesian term for cannabis— aren't often jailed over small quantities, unless repeat offenders, and the fine will be no more than a slap on the wrist for the businessman valued at over $1 billion.

The wealthy art collector began as a street busker. From playing the accordion and stilt-walking to swallowing fire, he turned a small circus troop in Quebec into a $1.8 billion circus empire, which he sold in 2015. He’s also infamous for losing over $30 million during his poker days in the early 2000s, for being an avid art collector, and for his 10-day trip to the International Space Station in 2009. He also founded the One Drop initiative, a non-profit aimed at educating and addressing the global need for clean water.

Moving forward, Laliberté is still under judicial order, meaning he has the right to leave Polynesia, but must respond to the summons of the investigating judge and adhere to a ban on communicating with employees involved in the case.

This article is available under a Canadian Creative Commons licence.