After a long and contentious debate, the Maryland Senate tentatively approved a bill today permitting use of the controversial cancer treatment laetrile, in an overwhelming vote that left little doubt about the drug's ultimate fate in the Senate.

The approval came on a day in the General Assembly when the most noticeable sounds were rumblings made by some legislators organizing opposition to Gov. Marvin Mandel's proposed 1 cent increase in the state sales tax, from 4 to 5 per cent.

The Senate's heated debated over laetrile, an extract of apricot or peach pits, appeared to signal a sharp split over advisability of legitimizing it in Maryland. But when the Senate voted on the bill, 39 were in favor and only seven opposed.

Organized medicine, including the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute, oppose use of laetrile because it is considered a useless placebo that many patients use instead of orthodox medical treatments that might save their lives.

At a committee hearing last week, however, several dozen laetrile users testified the drug had helped, and in some cases appeared to cure cancer after orthodox treatments had failed.

"We do not maintain that it is a cure-all," said Sen. Edward T. Hall (R-Calvert), sponsor of the bill to permit laetrile to be used. "We simply maintain that it will do no harm. And if an individual thinks it will help, why should he not have it?"

"It may not do any harm, but it isn't going to do any good, and it may induce people who are diagnosed early, at a treatable stage, not to get other treatment," said Sen. Lawrence Levitan (D-Montgomery), an opponent of the bill.

"You're asking this body of 47 laymen to make a medical judgment," said Sen. Rosalie Abrams (D-Baltimore), a nurse. "Let us not substitute our judgment for proper testing of the drug."

There is no law against use of laetrile, but the Federal Food and Drug Administration has banned interstate transportation on grounds it has not been properly tested. That ban has been challenged in a federal court in Oklahoma, and a judge there has given FDA until May 1 to come up with evidence to support its regulation.

The bill is needed, supporters say, because medical and pharmaceutical professionals groups have threatened to remove licenses of doctors and pharmacist who prescribe or sell laetrile.

Meanwhile, several efforts have been initiated to organize support for a move to block the 1 cent increase in the sales tax that Mandel says will raise the $120 million needed to balance next year's budget.

"I don't think the votes are there in the Senate now for a tax increase," said Sen. John C. Coolahan (D-Baltimore County). "I think there is room for substantial cutting in that (proposed) budget, enough to avoid a tax increase."

Coolahan said "there will be" an organized effort among senators to cut enough money from the budget to offset need for a tax increase. He said 18 or 20 senators will meet in the next 10 days to orchestrate a budget-cutting effort.

Sen. John A. Cade (R-Anne Arundel) said Monday a bipartisan coalition of 13 senators will attempt to cut about $40 million, or 1 per cent, from the budget, and adjust the state's income tax structure to produce another $80 million.

If Mandel's proposal is approved, the sales tax would rise from 4 per cent to 5 per cent, producing [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]