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Why is the new federal ivory ban proving controversial?

While it went overlooked by many media outlets, the Obama Administration took a historic step earlier this month by enacting an almost-total ban on the sale of products containing ivory from African elephants.

The move, which effectively ended a U.S. industry dating back hundreds of years, is not without controversy however. Indeed, many antique dealers are now claiming that it will serve to render billions of dollars in priceless artifacts worthless in a matter of weeks.

What exactly did the administration do concerning the sale of ivory?

President Obama signed a final rule calling for the commercial trade of African elephant ivory to be strictly prohibited starting July 6, 2016.

Specifically, this amendment to the Endangered Species Act provides for only two exceptions:  preexisting items containing less than 200 grams of ivory (musical instruments, firearms, etc.), and antiques that are at least 100 years old and whose age can be verified by either a professional appraiser or some other documentation.

Why has the U.S. taken this step?     

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which enforces the ESA, the new rule will help cut down on the problem of wildlife trafficking, which has not only claimed the lives of thousands of endangered elephants, but is also a favored revenue stream for warlords and terrorist groups.

Why are antique dealers upset with the enhanced regulation?

From pianos to walking sticks, antique dealers are arguing that it will be close to impossible to definitely establish the age of countless artifacts whose ivory content is greater than 200 grams. This reality, they argue, will serve to make these antiques essentially worthless, as they can't be sold in any capacity, just passed down to future generations.

In support of this contention, they point to the fact that many of the world's premier auction houses will no longer sell any ivory containing items owing to the uncertainty as to their legality.

What are some of the penalties that a person could face for violating the prohibition on ivory sales?

The maximum penalty for violating the ESA is a fine of up to $100,000 ($200,000 for an organization) and up to one year in prison. This is not to mention that a person could also face fines of up to $250,000 ($500,000 for an organization) and up to five years in prison if convicted of violating the Lacey Act, which criminalizes the production or submission of false paperwork purporting to show that an ivory-related item qualifies as an exception.

If you are under investigation or have already been charged with any sort of federal offense, it's imperative to consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.

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