Laetrile, the drug made from apricot pits that is considered by some of its advocates a cancer cure, came close to being legalized in Maryland yesterday.

The State Senate enacted a measure to allow physicians to prescribe the as-yet-untested drug and to prohibit hospitals from refusing to administer it to patients.

Acting Gov. Blair Lee III has promised to sign the legislation. He has said that although he does not "believe in apricot pits . . . there are folks that do and it's a free country."

Also known as amygdalin, the drug has been promoted here for the past two years by former cancer patients and their elected officials. The measure, approved by the House of Delegates earlier this week, passed the Senate yesterday on a 33-to-44 vote with little debate.

Sen. John G. Coolahan (D-Baltimore County), one of the sponsors of the measure, is also unconvinced of the healing powers of laetrile. But he supported the measure this year after his father underwent a cancer operation in December and the family was forced to consider alternative post-operative treatments.

"He's had friends who've had chemo-therapy and have wasted away to hell," said Coolahan of his 72-year-old father. "He absolutely won't submit to chemo-therapy and say laetrile is an anaesthetist."

"I think it's the second hope for a lot of people and may be the only hope they've got," Coolahan added.

First popularized by clinics in Mexico, Laetrile was both praised and denounced at well attended hearing this session. Donald Kennedy, the Federal Food and Drug Administration Commissioner, told the House Environmental Matters Committee this year that the drug is "a major fraud" and neither safe nor effective in treating cancer.

At the same hearing, Robert W. Bradford, head of the nationwide drive to legalize laetrile, acused the FDA of trying to protect the commercial drug industry at the expense of the nation's cancer victim.