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Understanding the Difference Between a Law and a Regulation

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

By Sarah Everhart

Photo Credit Edwin Remsberg. Pictured is an image of the Maryland State House in Annapolis.

The article is not a substitute for legal advice. See here for the site’s reposting policy.

Given that we are in the midst of the 90-day legislative session in Maryland, it seems a good time to address an issue the ALEI legal specialists are asked about from time to time: the difference between a law and a regulation.


Laws are introduced and passed by the members of the General Assembly who represent the 47 legislative districts of Maryland. Citizens who want to have a law introduced or amended must work with their legislator to do so. Laws are introduced in either the House or Senate, referred to as chambers, and then progress through the system illustrated below. The public may testify, either in person or by sending in testimony, on a law in committee. Anyone interested in reading or following a law during the legislative session can do so on the General Assembly website. When a law has been debated by committee, amended if need be, and is final, it is voted on by both the House and Senate. After a law is passed by both chambers, the last step is presenting the law to the Governor where it may be signed, left signed, or vetoed. Unless a bill is vetoed, it will become law.

Source: Maryland General Assembly website,


Laws often authorize the various departments or governmental agencies such as the Maryland Departments of Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources, to enact regulations to carry out a law. Laws often contain broad mandates, while the details of how a law will be applied and enforced is put in the regulations. Anyone interested in finding the answer to a legal question, therefore, should research and read not only the applicable law but any associated regulations. Regulations are proposed as either emergency or permanent. Once passed, a regulation is as powerful as a law.

It can take as long as 6 months to get a regulation from proposal to passed. The 6-month period is needed for the review of any proposed regulation by departmental staff, meetings with constituent groups directly affected by the proposal, a review by the Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review Committee (AELR), publication of the proposed regulation, public meetings or hearings, and publication of notice of the adoption of the regulation with an effective date. Regulations are published in the Maryland Register.

Regulations may be enacted sooner in an emergency and in that case, the emergency regulation is typically in effect for 180 days. Emergency regulations must first be approved by the AELR committee. At the end of the 180 days, the emergency regulation either expires, the effective date is extended, or the regulation is replaced by a permanent regulation which has moved through the prescribed system.

Citizens interested in participating in the regulatory process should monitor the Maryland Register and submit comments either in person or in writing to the proposing governmental agency. A citizen may also directly petition an agency to adopt, amend, or repeal regulations. A citizen needing guidance as to how a regulation enforced by an agency applies may petition the agency to issue a declaratory ruling on the matter. Alternatively, a citizen can file a lawsuit in circuit court for a declaratory judgment on a regulation’s validity.

Once passed, Maryland regulations can be accessed online and easily searched on the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) website. Any agricultural operator with questions about Maryland laws and regulations is welcome to contact one of the ALEI legal specialists via email at or by phone at 410-706-7377.

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