In the 1970s and 1980s poaching of elephants became so extreme that CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) banned the ivory trade in 1989.
This is a tricky question to answer, because it depends on what kind of ivory you are talking about and on what you mean by “illegal”.
As haydenseder mentioned, a number of international, U.S. federal and state laws were passed at the end of the twentieth century to protect elephant populations from poachers.
However, ivory itself was not suddenly made illegal in the same sense that cocaine or marijuana is illegal.
In the United States, ivory can be legal or illegal to possess, buy, or sell depending on four different factors:
You can find a chart here that is useful in determining the legality of owning, buying, or selling a specific piece of ivory.
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