The Obama administration is preparing to treat virtually every antique collector, dealer, and auctioneer in America as a criminal. In the name of saving elephants, the administration is effectively banning the sale of all ivory objects, even if acquired legally decades ago. Doing so will weaken conservation efforts and enrich those engaged in the illegal ivory trade.
Under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) only ivory from before 1989 can be sold. Unfortunately, ivory prohibition has not stopped the slaughter of elephants.
The greatest demand for new ivory comes from Asia. Most ivory in America arrived legally, many years ago.
Until now the rules were simple and sensible. Ivory imported legally can be sold. Moreover, the burden of proof fell on the government to convict you of violating the law. That’s the way America normally handles both criminal and civil offenses.
However, in mid-February the administration issued what amounted to a ban on ivory sales. As I point out in my new Forbes online column:
In practice, virtually every collector, dealer, auctioneer, and other person in America is banned from selling ivory items, even if acquired legally, owned for decades, and worth hundreds or thousands of dollars. Every flea market, junk shop, estate sale, antique store, auction showroom, and antique show is at risk of raids, confiscations, and prosecutions.
First, no imports are allowed, not even of antiques, which before could be brought to America with a CITES certificate.
Second, all exports are banned, except antiques (defined as over a century old) in what the Fish and Wildlife Service says are “exceptional circumstances.” At best the administration is raising the administrative and cost burdens of exporting to countries which already limit ivory imports to items with appropriate CITES documentation. Or the new rule may restrict the sale of items previously allowed, thereby hindering Americans in disposing of their legal collections.