In this drug-producing region, many teen-aged boys who want to make a million dream of following the example of the area's best-known personage, marijuana kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero.

"The only source of money here is drugs. When a boy gets to be 15 or 16, all he wants to do is carry a gun, plant marijuana and have two or three girlfriends," a local physician said.

Mexican politicians, newspaper columnists and other pundits recently have bewailed a tendency in some quarters to view narcotics traffickers as folk heroes because of their poor backgrounds, fabulous wealth and swashbuckling lifestyle. This image has weakened the battle against drugs, they say, because too many people view the trade as legitimate and attractive.

"The problem continues, and it is necessary to delve into its true causes: a society that for its spurious conception of life considers that any winner is a hero, regardless of the origin of his triumph," Supreme Court Justice Manuel Rivera wrote in the newspaper El Universal.

The image also has partially concealed the reality of the drug lords' frequently demonstrated brutality. In the city of Culiacan, 30 miles southwest of here, traffickers accompanied by bodyguards carrying submachine guns repeatedly have grabbed young women from restaurants and hotel lobbies, carried them off and raped them.

But the drug traffickers are viewed as home-town heroes by many residents of these sunbaked mountains, where opium poppies have been grown for profit for at least four decades.

Locals sing a song about Caro Quintero, called "La Corrida" or "The Race." It relates how federal police supposedly once caught up with the outlaw only to be machine-gunned by him.

Caro Quintero, 33, who grew up in a tiny village northeast of here, was estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars when arrested last month.

"Everybody here loves him," said a 19-year-old youth named Jesus, who works at a tire repair shack.

The local Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. Agustin Gonzalez, 49, praised Caro Quintero for helping to pay for construction of a church in the village of Babunica, and for other works on behalf of the community.

"He has installed electricity in some ranches and built roads. He's helped some poor people," the priest said. "What he does to earn money is bad. But he uses his money in part for good."